By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

November 15, 2007

The music of Los Lobos has always been graced by sonic splendor, danceable rhythms and vision, but it has also exuded a strong sense of brotherhood and community.

Thanks to the cinematic songwriting skills of guitarist David Hidalgo and drummer Louie Perez, Los Lobos' chief lyricist, this sense of community extends far beyond the 34-year-old band to the Mexican-American culture that nurtures it in East Los Angeles.

On Los Lobos' most recent CD, "The Town and the City," Perez again writes about the Mexican-American experience, but in the context of one of America's most contentious issues: immigration.

"I didn't set out to write a record about immigration," Perez, whose parents came to America from Mexico, said recently from his home in Los Angeles. "That was something that kind of communicated itself. But I can't remember when I haven't written about things that you associate with the immigrant experience.

"If you go back to our first full-length LP, 'How Will the Wolf Survive,' (the song) 'A Matter of Time' was written about a person crossing the border and leaving his family behind. So it's hard for me to detach myself from that, especially now, with what's going on in contemporary politics."

On the new CD, "The Valley" begins the journey, telling the romantic story of a new beginning. By the time the album reaches its ambiguous conclusion, the protagonist has cycled through life's joys and disappointments, through "The City" to "The Town."

" 'The Town' for me was looking back at where I grew up," Perez says. "And rather than paint this pastoral picture, I had to look at what my town was. And I had to include the happy times, with all the wrinkles that go with it. You have the shot going off in the night - and you know there was a lot of verses. There was helicopters and kids playing in the yard, there was the smell of fresh tortillas kind of wafting in the air from the tortilla factory that was two doors down from my house. A lot of stuff. And we just kind of settled on these here, this little bit of a description of the town where we came from."

Perez, 54 - "I'm two months from being able to order off the seniors menu" - maintains that his band is nonpolitical. The truth is that Los Lobos' music is so powerful because it is rooted in the experiences of real people, not in soapbox oratory.

"One journalist I spoke to some years ago said, man, if you listen to all your records, you sound like a depressed guy," Perez laughs. "I said no, no, I'm just a storyteller. And I write either what's in front of me or what I remember ... and things that move me. It might be something I hear on the news, or it could be a photograph or a picture in a magazine that moves me to tell a story."

And Perez has been telling his stories for 34 years in the same band, which started playing in Spanish for neighborhood parties and events. The only lineup change has been the addition of ex-Blaster Steve Berlin - "the new guy," Perez laughs - on sax and keys, 22 years ago.

How has Los Lobos kept it together?

"Well, I'd like to say it's because our roots run so deep, culturally and geographically, of course," Perez says. "We all grew up in the same neighborhood. We were friends before we ever played music together. We didn't put out a classified ad for bass players, let's put it that way. I would like to think that's what keeps us together.

"And also, the sense of discovery ... and the drive to reinvent. Every record's always different, and the songs are always changing. All those things, all together."