Throwaway Throwbacks

Given my ingrained biases in the–for me–narrow realm of pop music, a recording being a throwaway isn’t a bad thing. It just means a favored artist isn’t advancing their artistry via a recording. Such a holding action may provide a lot of pleasure. For some artists this lack of advancement is their default. For example, last year Richard Thompson released a live record, Sweet Warrior. It’s a very fine, even stirring, slab of ‘more of the same.’ It’s a bit shy of being a throw-away too.

Los Lobos is one of my favorite rock bands over 25 years. As gritty proponents of rootsy Chicano folk and rock and roll, their artistry long ago achieved a dependable consistency. As well, Los Lobos is an awesome live band; right up there with contemporaries, The Allman Brothers, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Derek Trucks, Richard Thompson, Little Feat, and others.

However, their 2009 release, Los Lobos Does Disney sits squarely in the throwaway box. This is so in spite of its not being more of the same because the record’s line-up of songs is exclusively drawn from the repertoire of Disney ‘classics.’ This wasn’t a bold move. Los Lobos versions of Disney mostly secure the classic Los Lobos aesthetic. But, the problem is that where this isn’t the case, the music is whimsical beyond belief! How whimsical?

To the point of being fey, and it’s this that doesn’t sit well for this listener. Even felicitous touches in arrangements, such as the pumping organ on Grim Grinning Ghosts, are subsumed by the odd material. And, there are many such touches. Los Lobos are terrific players and singers, but here their talent is wed, mostly, to weird material.

When their classic rock and roll approach dominates, as it does on the fuzz drenched The Ugly Bug Ball, it comes as a relief. Yet, this tune is truly a lesser moment of more of the same. Only Bare Necessities really works the concept to a complete success. Not In Nottingham is an enjoyable ballad. Three pleasurable tracks suggests Los Lobos Does Disney is a well executed misstep.

It can be contrasted with power poppers Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoff‘s second record of classic rock covers,Under the Covers, Volume 2. Here, the pleasures are modest but at least the duo’s rendering of a different stripe of novelty tunes, classic FM radio chestnuts, is respectful and much more than dutiful.

I chuckled as I listened because Sweet and Hoffs may constitute the slickest bar band of all time as they cover Fleetwood Mac, Todd Rundgren (twice,) Tom Petty, Raspberries, Derek and the Dominoes, Big Star, and other pop luminaries. They don’t reach for revelations and it’s all way too shiny, yet when they nail it, as they do on Big Star’s Back of a Car, their sincerity trumps the undeniable display of craft.

There is one moment of revelation: in the iconic up-shifting modulation between Yes’s Your Move and All Good People, Sweet breaks out a romping Moby Grape-esque chunk of prime guitar psych, and it’s as if I was hearing one of my least favorite bands, Yes, for the first time. Bread’s Everything I Own is the other highlight. Hoffs, a splendid singer, basically makes this forgotten MOR staple her own. Otherwise, this record lands in throwaway territory, albeit its pleasures are many. Some of its moments might end up on a wedding mix tape if I ever get called to do one.

Sid & Susie aka Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs on myspace

Los Lobos

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