In any discussion of the Blazers, East L.A.'s other nationally renowned roots-rocking combo, Los Lobos looms like the proverbial gorilla. Both are bilingual bands manned by multi-instrumentalists who have mastered all that is fretted from either side of the Rio Grande. In 1988 Los Lobos released La Pistola y el Corazon, its first all-Spanish language album; Puro Blazers is this band's like-tongued counterpart.
The similarities end there. While Los Lobos's Spanish-language music tends to paint vistas of the Chihuahuan desert or the Gulf Coast around Veracruz, the Blazers' music usually conjures images of the palmy savannas further south. The cumbia, a Colombian style as doggedly invasive and endearing as the armadillo, is strongly represented here, and if none quite matches the band's criminally underheard "Cumbia del Sol" from its 1995 East Side Soul album, then few tunes ever do. ("Del Sol" is one of a bare handful of songs that have sent me fumbling for the "record" button midway through my first hearing on the radio.) Guitarists Manuel Gonzales and Ruben Guaderrama come closest to rebottling that lightning on "Mi Sombrero Alón," in which their genius for elaborate riffing atop choogling percussion is showcased in all its hypnotic glory. "Cumbia de la Carretera," "El Mochilón" and "Cumbia de la Media Noche" are also strong. All of the above make you want to point the car toward Playa del Carmen and drive like the devil.
Elsewhere, accordionist Jesus Cuevas is given the keys to the Blazers, with sterling results. "Coco Rayado" has the most South Mexican feel of the squeezebox numbers, while Tejanos can revel in "Vieja Escalera" and "Tu Nuevo Cariñito"; the rambling free-range accordion fills a masterful display of el sonido de San Antonio. By contrast, Gonzales's orchestral accordion on "Grande de Caderas" carries with it a surprising but palpable whiff of Paris.
A valid quibble: Puro Blazers clocks in at a tantalizing 37 minutes. While not a one of those is wasted, one is left starved for more. It's like a plate of top nachos split five ways.
Rounder is calling this "Latin roots rock," and my only quibble with that is the "Latin" qualifier. This is roots rock par excellence, as all music truly from the roots "rocks." The sooner a third like-minded band from East L.A. comes along to muddy the inevitable comparisons to Los Lobos the better.
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