Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

APRIL 19, 1999: 

Cesar Rosas, Soul Disguise (Rykodisc)

Los Lobos’ Cesar Rosas apparently isn’t one for vacations. Now, three years and counting since Los Lobos’ last record (1996’s Colossal Head) and fresh off last year’s Mexican folk dream team, Los Super Seven (which also featured Lobos partner David Hidalgo), Rosas (the one with sunglasses, goatee, and scruffy voice) has released the group’s first proper solo project with Soul Disguise, the kind of raw, varied, old-time rock-and-roll record that has all but disappeared from the pop landscape.

Musically, Soul Disguise finds fruitful middle ground between Los Lobos’ two career peaks: 1984’s debut LP How Will The Wolf Survive? (that decade’s most sublime roots-rock record) and Colossal Head, a sonic masterpiece that invigorated old-school rock-and-roll for the soundscape age. Colossal Head was the culmination of aural experimentation born out of The Latin Playboys, a 1992 side project between Lobos members Hidalgo and Louie Perez and future Colossal Head producers Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom.

But if Hidalgo and Perez are the avant-gardists of the group, then Rosas is its blues-based soul, and his solo record opts for a simpler update of the East L.A. rhythm and blues with which Los Lobos made its name. The surprisingly joyful and rousing Soul Disguise exhibits the same musical dexterity and expansive vision of rock-and-roll that has made Los Lobos such a treasure over the last 15 years: Skynyrd-esque and ZZ Top-style riff-rockers, Ike Turner covers, harmonica-spiked, Chicano blues tunes, sweet soul music, and a couple of Spanish-language conjunto songs with Tex-Mex legend and Los Super Seven partner Flaco Jimenez on accordion. The album’s centerpiece is the inspirational “Shacks and Shambles,” a funk-based shuffle about getting what you’ve got the hard way and making it better each and every day, in which Rosas lays down a personal vision of life’s verities, which include “hot sauce and a Sunday Times/dedicated lefties and some underwater rhymes.”

The vastly under-appreciated Los Lobos might be the finest rock-and-roll band of their time, but as a genuinely interactive and egalitarian roots ensemble, they’re nothing less than the Band of their era, and, truth be told, the relatively unassuming Soul Disguise is a finer solo move than Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, or Rick Danko ever managed. — Chris Herrington



Terry Allen, Salivation (Sugar Hill)

The Lubbock-raised Terry Allen is a country/folk singer-songwriter along the lines of former high-school classmates Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, though his more earthbound orneriness and raw singing might be more comparable to Rust Belt storyteller John Prine. Salivation is only Allen’s sixth album in a 24-year career that has yielded a lot of interesting music and one near-masterpiece, 1979’s double album Lubbock (on everything). A full-time sculptor/painter and part-time musician, the quality of Allen’s musical output is about as sporadic as its creation and dissemination, and “sporadic” about sums up Salivation.

Allen’s first record since 1996’s generally strong comeback Human Remains, Salivation starts off as a concept album about the coming Judgment Day and promised return of that Jesus guy. (How much pre-millennial tension must we bear?) The opening title track is a sarcastic Jesus-is-coming invocation that sets an apocalyptic tone. But then Allen gets really portentous with “The Doll,” where he condemns the religion of money, and some oppressive string arrangements underscore his seriousness.

Ever the artiste, Allen is prone to such debilitating, conceptual Big Think on occasion, and it makes one yearn for the loose-as-a-goose highbrow/lowbrow of Lubbock (on everything) and its unforgettable character sketches.

Thankfully, Salivation finds Allen getting perpetually side-tracked from his Big Theme. He revisits a couple of old songs: “Billy The Boy,” a nine-minute medley from an obscure mid-Eighties piece called Pedal Steal, and “Cortez Sail” from his out-of-print 1975 debut Juarez. He also enlists two other generations of Allens — his sons and grandson — for a tribute to his father on the likeable jaunt “Red Leg Boy.” But best of all is “X-Mas on the Isthmus,” where he finally makes something of his Jesus theme and flashes the same odd-ball wit that made Lubbock (on everything) and Human Remains so enjoyable. — C.H.


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