Rhino Records has put together budget Greatest Hits collections from three bands who, frankly, didn’t have many hits. But if you’re a fan, you might want to pick up the new Greatest Hits from Mr. Big, Greatest Hits from Al Stewart and Hothouse Flowers’ The Best 0f.
Each disc has 16-17 tracks, and the Al Stewart set includes his hits “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages,” from the mid-70s, as well as a selection of songs dating all the way back to 1967 and his last attempt at chart-making in 1988.
Los Lobos hit the charts two decades ago with “Will The Wolf Survive,” and since then, the band has continued to experiment with the melding of American and Mexican roots rock.
Their latest effort takes a cue from Santana, bringing in a series of guest artists on almost every track. Unlike Santana however, these guests aren’t just pop star luminaries propped up at the mic to bring radio attention to the group. Los Lobos pairs with a series of artists known for creating inventive roots and blues rock.
The band opens the disc with south-of-the-border band Café Tacuba to salsa up the Spanish rouser “La Venganza de Los Pelados,” brings in Little Willie G. to add a legitimate blues rasp to the saxophone honking “Is This All There is?,” pumps up their own established roots credentials with the addition of roots rocker Dave Alvin on the cowboy-campfire duet of “Somewhere in Time,” and pulls out the horn and keyboard stops with the help of Mavis Staples on “Someday” to make an instantly classic R&B offering.
Tom Waits guests on “Kitate,” and Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello bring their distinctive vocal styles to two tracks as well; because of the inescapable signature styles of these singers, these are the only tracks where the album starts to sound more like the guest than Los Lobos. Other guests include Bobby Womack, Ruben Blades, Mitchell Froom and Garth Hudson.
There are songs that are pure Los Lobos here as well; the dreamy yearning of “Rita,” which includes Froom on keyboards, is one of the album’s standout tracks, while the sinister bass stomp of “Charmed” moves the album into a gritty late night prowling territory.
Los Lobos’ Ride is a musical adventure worth taking again and again. Don’t miss this one.
Jack Blades has been around the block a time or two. The singer-bassist started his career by landing “Sister Christian” on the radio with Night Ranger, went on to form Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent and Styx’s Tommy Shaw in the early ‘90s, and released a one-off CD after the disbanding of the Yankees as Shaw Blades. Over the past few years he’s been doing songwriting with the likes of Journey, Great White and Aerosmith and touring with Night Ranger again, as well as producing an album for his younger brother Colin. But now he finally offers a disc of new material via his pal Tommy Shaw’s record label.
Blades’ first solo album opens with “Shine On,” a big-stadium guitar anthem that will sound reminiscent of Damn Yankees, as it features Shaw on co-writing and harmonies. That’s followed by “Sea of Emotion,” another big guitar number, featuring Journey’s Neal Schon. Both Shaw and Schon also turn up later on the disc as well.
Shaw helps out on a nicely introspective cover of the old Spirit hit “Nature’s Way” and Great White’s Michael Lardie steps in on guitars and keyboards on the uplifting “Sometimes You Gotta Have Faith,” where Blades extols the virtues of love noting,
“sometimes you gotta have faith in
something greater than yourself
sometimes you gotta believe in
something bigger than yourself
oh, I believe.”
In addition to Schon, Shaw and Lardie, Blades’ brother Colin and his
pals in Night Ranger help out on several numbers, making the whole disc something
of a “family affair.”
The entire disc has a stomp-rock appeal, with harmonies and riffs that Damn Yankees and Night Ranger fans will appreciate. Yet overall, it seems a little rougher, less perfectly studio polished than those bands’ albums. And the roughness is part of the appeal; this sounds like Blades got together and jammed in his living room with a bunch of friends…which is probably exactly how this was recorded.
Given the fact that it’s on a smaller label, this one probably won’t be all over the airwaves like a Damn Yankees or Night Ranger album (though the perfect harmonies of “Someday” and “Shine On” ought to be on every rock radio show). But fans of those bands should definitely look for this. Blades still can write big rock anthems with the best of them. Classic rock lives.