When the Los Lonely Boys burst onto the popular music scene in 2004 – seemingly out of nowhere – with their eponymous debut and its infectious hit single, “Heaven”, they rode that wave straight to a Grammy award and platinum record sales. Since that time, however, the brothers Garza had some legal troubles, and they have released two studio recordings that sold less successfully than that debut. Most recently, bassist JoJo suffered from a vocal chord injury, and their 4th studio platter was temporally put on hold while he underwent surgery.
Loosely translated, Rockpango is a self-coined Latin term for rock party. No longer under contract with Epic Records, the Texicana trio has self-released it’s fourth album, and for the most part stayed true to its roots. Musically, they add a string quartet in places and keyboards in others to fill out the tone. And like previous releases, the band jumps from Latin-tinged funk to bluesy, Stevie Ray Vaughan styled guitar blowouts to sweet, acoustic melodies, while the brothers’ charismatic harmonies remain a constant selling-point throughout.
Rockpango is bookended by hard rocking, bass thumping anthems. “American Idle” centers on Henry’s roaring guitars and, lyrically, focuses on the economic recession, suggesting a little more love for one another is something we all could use. Meanwhile, the closing “Believe” rumbles around on the pounding rhythm of Jojo and drummer Ringo; it is a resounding declaration of the power of love.
Several songs take the love declaration further, such as the acoustic-and-steel-guitar-laced first single, “Fly Away”, the swelling B-3 organ groove/funky staccato beat-filled “Love in My Veins”, and the string and piano ballad “Smile”. The weeping, bluesy lament “Road to Nowhere” finds the song’s protagonist searching for the lost love of his life. “Baby Girl” nods in the direction of Carlos Santana with smooth guitar flourishes, offering a bit of sexual innuendo towards a young woman, while “Porn Star” is an provocative (albeit slightly awkward) ode to a woman on a monitor.
But perhaps two of the best songs here have nothing to do with love whatsoever. With wah-wah guitar effects and dense chord structures, “16 Monkeys” is an exuberant and catchy spin through a swirling, psychedelic haze of an acid trip: “My Spaceships flying, I’m an astro-boy / I watched the cow jump over the moon / He said play me a song, but the notes were all wrong and out of tune / I guess my Coco Puffs fell off of my spoon.” And on the blazing title cut, the brothers pay tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan with fiery, dense, guitars and swirling B-3 organ. This is the track that will keep drawing you back for repeated listens.
It was rich vocal harmonies and deft musical playing that drew us to Los Lonely Boys in 2004, not ambitious or over reaching songwriting skills. And on Rockpango, Los Lonely Boys are sticking with what got them this far.
// Notes from the Road
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