It’s difficult to say anything about this album that hasn’t already been said in other reviews. Yes, the Garza brothers are a tight band of Texanos who combine good ol’ rock/blues/boogie with some Latin touches and more than a bit of country; yes, Sacred is more of the same stuff as on their first album, only now they have more pop savvy and the sound is beefed up with horns a couple of times; yes, their father Enrique and Willie Nelson both sing on “Outlaws”.
But I knew all that before I even bought the album, so I’m guessing you know it too. So here are some things I’ve actually learned after playing the album about 10 times in the last five days:
1. Los Lonely Boys are just about equal, at this point, to the sum of their parts. Henry is a good vocalist who sounds great only because his brothers sing excellent harmonies; Henry is a very good guitarist but the band is really driven by his brothers’ rhythm section; without Henry as a frontman, JoJo and Ringo would be like Sly and Robbie, gigging for money but never quite able to put it over as an act. So here’s hoping they keep it simple and take all that stuff about being a family band to heart.
2. They still cannot write lyrics worth a damn. At this point, the words are not really the thing with Los Lonely Boys. Maybe that’s okay, because they sing everything with such (take your pick: soulfulness/passion/true Texas grit) that it’s easy to get swept up in it anyway. And maybe they’re reflecting Tex-Mex culture and giving a big fat nod to their country music audiences by keeping things simple, stripped down, unchallenging. But there is such a thing as going too far, and all this rhyming “love” with “up above” stuff is not going to be so cute after a while. Come on, guys, read some poetry or sit down with some Love albums or some Smokey Robinson songs or something. Better yet, check out what some south-of-the-border people are rocking—that new Julieta Venegas is pretty sweet, and there’s nothing wrong with Cafe Tacuba or Bersuit Vergabarat or Aterciopelados either. That’s your assignment for the next record, which at this point will be out about the 12th of Never, 2010.
3. They haven’t yet met a groove they cannot handle. This is some kind of rockism from me but it’s important, when you are a band, to be able to play in more than one style. They hinted at a couple on their first record, and the live album showed that they can both stretch things out like a jam band AND nail songs perfectly a capella if they feel like it. But Sacred shows that they have a lot more funk in them than they’ve shown so far; “Oye Mamacita” threatens to break into “Oye Como Va” any second, and “My Way” has a whole lot more muscle than anything they’ve shown before. There’s also a lot more 1970s easy-listening pop touches here (a lot of 6/8 time, harmonicas and moody accordians) and some new blues chops on display. The Garzas ain’t no joke, as a band.
4. Their independence will be their saving grace. I was really worried about these guys because so much of their fame seemed to be resting on “Heaven” being such a pop hit; it was a pretty good song, but I always thought it got as big as it did because the Christian community thought they had found a new band to rally around. And when I saw the title of this record and the cover with crosses on it, I was like “Whoa, they’re really sucking up to that particular fan base bigtime, guess that leaves out all unbelievers and nonbelievers and alternate believers, which is a whole crapload of this country.” (Honestly, I really said that.) But only a couple of songs even mention God, and they say right up front on “My Way”: “Don’t tell me how to live my life / Don’t tell me how to pray.” That’s some pretty good practical advice they’re dishing out, so I’m a-gonna follow it and I hope you will too. Plus they have songs here about hot ladies and stuff, so they’re not getting ready to go thump anyone’s Bible or Qu’ran any time soon.
5. They’re not there yet, but they could end up making the leap in a few years. This is a really good fun listenable album, and unchallenging enough to play virtually anywhere, and that’s fine. But there are signs that Los Lonely Boys is more ambitious than they’ve shown us so far. Exhibit One is “One More Day,” where they bust out with some social commentary that indicates that maybe they’re not so happy with how the world is going right now. It’d be better if this was specified a bit more, but for now I’ll take it as a good sign. Also, “Texican Style” has the first recorded instance of the Garzas having fun, with some almost-authentic-sounding studio chatter, and there is just enough tasty self-aware cheese in the lovely slow jam “I Never Met a Woman” for my tastes. And yeah, hearing their dad and Willie sing on “Outlaws” is pretty tasty, especially because Enrique Garza nails his part like Bill Hall nails the hanging slider.
So yeah, go ahead and hate me for loving this, but it’s too well-done and adorable not to be loved. (America agrees; Sacred just entered the charts at #2, behind one of those mega-comp CDs.) And don’t front on Los Lonely Boys; that would not only be churlish, but also a really stupid strategy.