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Los Lobos: Kiko: 20th Anniversary Edition
Shout Factory’s three-pronged release celebrating the 20th anniversary of Los Lobos dazzling Kiko is as suitably special as the original album itself. With a remastered CD, a live CD of a 2006 performance of the album, and accompanying DVD/Blu-Ray of that concert, the modern classic gets the star treatment it so richly deserves. Spared the revisionist tinkering or exhaustive from-the-vault filler that too often weigh down reissues of this nature, this Kiko trio keeps the focus on the original work and reveals how well it still shines two decades later.
First, there is Kiko, in its newly remastered splendor. Critics and the band’s faithful loved it when it premiered in 1992. Widely hailed as one of the best albums of the ‘90s, it was seen as an innovative leap forward not only for the East L.A. quintet, but for its sonic boundary bending, as well. The beautifully crafted songs of Louie Perez, David Hidalgo, and Cesar Rosas found in producer Mitchell Froom and engineer Tchad Blake a team that opened the studio door to possibilities to that point unknown. What resulted were 16 songs that ran the musical gamut, leading not only those familiar with the group to rethink that perception, but to reconsider rock music, altogether.
Time has done nothing but reaffirm the conclusion of Kiko as a masterwork. From the opening snare drum crack of “Dream in Blue,” heartbreaking accordion whine of “Angels with Dirty Faces,” delicate poetry of Perez’ “Saint Behind the Glass,” right through to the smiling “Rio De Tenampa,” with full Mariachi grandeur, the album’s rooted charm and sparkling mix remain brilliant. It is a recording that never feels affected, yet delights as to what is revealed with repeated listening. Bonus tracks include “Whiskey Trail” and extended “Rio” demo versions, plus three live cuts from a ’92 NPR broadcast; each welcome adornments to the complete picture.
Contrasted with the low-fi radio performances included on the reissue is the Kiko Live release, the full reading of the album plus encores drawn from a House of Blues concert in February of 2006. A top-to-bottom recitation of the record, the nuances of the studio set are transferred mostly literally in terms of arrangement, but solos are treated as they are at any Los Lobos date; with plenty of interplay and improvisation. Chicago Blues breaks from Rosas and knife-edge riffs from Hidalgo slice through a furious “Wicked Rain,” moored by Conrad Lozano’s bass of Gibraltar and Steve Berlin’s layering saxophone/keyboard duo. Tricky counterpoint percussion is tastefully navigated by guest drummer Cougar Estrada, who along with harpist Angel Abundez , Hidalgo’s son David, Jr., and Mariachi band Los Cezontles round out the evening’s musical guests. Much has been written, and rightly so, about the album’s pioneering production from Froom and Blake, yet it’s the repertoire and musicianship onstage that make clear the band’s ability to write and play terrific songs.
The DVD/Blu-Ray is the companion video to the concert CD, interspersed with band and production interviews that tell not only the story of Kiko, but also the inspiration behind many of its songs, as well as a mini-history of the band’s origins. A menu feature allows the viewer to bypass the interviews and enjoy the show uninterrupted, but those mixed-in moments are both enlightening and engaging. The multi-camera video captures the band without rapid cuts or gratuitous audience shots, even employing a nod to the film craft of the 1970s with flashes of split-screen harmony. Digital 2.0 Stereo and Digital Surround 5.1 audio options pay off an in-home concert experience.
A casualty of the digital media revolution, and the rise of the Internet as the gateless marketplace for artists, is the fading memory of a time when a record like Kiko was seen as experimental and at the mercy of bottom-line executives. 20 years has leveled a lot of the music industry landscape, and left a wide open space for artists to express themselves without the necessity of a corporate machine to deliver it. Los Lobos and Kiko are stunningly relevant, even in an era of such freedom and choice, and this trio of releases suggests perhaps a debt of gratitude for just another band from East L.A.
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