Athletes have a term for it. When 20-foot jumpshots catch nothing but net, when every pass hits the intended receiver right between the numbers, when every fastball looks like a slow-moving grapefruit, they call it being "in the zone." It's a fleeting clarity that can't be summoned. It comes and goes and when one is feeling so blessed, it is best to ride the wave as long as possible.

Artists, too, experience this state of grace, resulting in periods of inspired creativity, when writing isn't a labor, when the paint seems to place itself on the canvas just where it's meant to be, when the scales fall from an actor's eyes and a theretofore impenetrable character is suddenly revealed.

Los Lobos caught a bit of lightning in a bottle as they worked on their last record, Kiko. Though they were not without acclaim prior to its release, most critics (myself included) viewed Kiko as the band's masterwork, a major stylistic leap forward for this group of rockers from East L.A. Their music has always been an eclectic mix of blues, rock and country, with a healthy dose of the traditional folk music and polka-like dance music of their ancestral home, Mexico, thrown in for good measure. Kiko, though, was a different brew altogether...new rhythms, new harmonies, new sounds.

But when the book was closed on Kiko, lead singer/guitarist David Hidalgo was still playing host to his muse. "After we finished Kiko, ideas kept coming, and we didn't want to shut them off. So I went in and recorded some of them on a little four-track machine. The music was far enough away from Los Lobos that it couldn't be used for that..

Instead, Hildalgo teamed up with Los Lobos' drummer, Louie Perez. The two took the basic tracks Hidalgo had created, added Perez's rather impressionistic lyrics and played the results for Mitchell Froom, a longtime Los Lobos cohort who'd produced the Kiko sessions. Tchad Blake, who engineered the recording of Kiko, was also recruited to take part and Latin Playboys were born.

Says Perez, "This music developed in a way that was very different from Los Lobos. We didn't do this with the idea of making a record. We just started fooling with the music and it developed on its own." "This was pretty extreme and experimental," agrees Froom. "When we started, there was no pressure. We didn't know if we were going to get demos or anything. Because of that lack of pressure, we were free to do whatever we wanted, however we wanted..

What they ended up with, after only 14 days of recording (they averaged a song a day!), is an moody, atmospheric, occasionally rocking record that comes highly recommended to any Los Lobos fan. Latin Playboys is stranger, more dramatic, more experimental than anything thus far released by Los Lobos but its link to that band is unmistakable. It sounds like the kind of stuff the band may have laid down late one night, while drinking a couple of beers after a long day's work. Ambient noises, processed vocals, odd clinks and clanks and strange vocals all add to the effect. It's like music you've heard before, yet something's a little different.

It even occurred to me that there's a bit of Tom Waits' circa-Swordfishtrombone/Rain Dogs/Frank's Wild Years sound happening here so it's worth noting that Tchad Blake worked on the latter of those projects and Waits' most recent, The Black Rider, so perhaps that connection is not so incidental.

Look for Latin Playboys on the BRETTnews Best of '94 List come January.

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