Cesar Rosas: Soul Disguise

Cesar Rosas
Soul Disguise

Apparently Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas isn't one for vacations. With 1996's career benchmark Colossal Head a relatively recent memory and last year's Mexican folk outing with bandmate David Hidalgo, Los Super Seven, still an undiscovered gem, Rosas--he of the sunglasses, goatee, and scruffy voice--has released the group's first proper solo project. That album, Soul Disguise, is the kind of raw old-time rock 'n' roll record that has all but disappeared from the pop landscape.

Musically, Soul Disguise finds a fruitful middle ground between Los Lobos' two career peaks: 1984's debut LP How Will the Wolf Survive?--that decade's best roots-rock record--and Colossal Head, a pomo R&B masterpiece that translated old-school rock 'n' roll into the age of the soundscape. The sonic pastiche of Colossal Head completed a foray into studio experimentation that began with The Latin Playboys, a 1994 side project on which Hidalgo and Lobos' Louie Perez joined L.A. producers Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom to create an album of opaque yet gorgeous aural collages.

But if Hidalgo and Perez are Los Lobos' avant-gardists, Rosas is its blues-based soul, and his solo record opts for a simpler update of the hopped-up brown-eyed soul on which Los Lobos made its name. Surprisingly joyful, even rousing, Soul Disguise exhibits the same musical dexterity and expansive vision of rock 'n' roll that has made the band such a treasure over the last 15 years. There's the Skynyrdesque "Racing the Moon," the ZZ Top-style rocker "Soul Disguise," the Ike Turner cover "You've Got to Lose," some ripping Chicano blues, sweet soul music, and a couple of conjunto songs recorded with Tex-Mex accordion legend and Los Super Seven helpmate Flaco Jimenez.

But the album's centerpiece is the inspirational "Shacks and Shambles," a funk-based shuffle about getting what you've got the hard way and making it better each and every day. Rosas lays down a personal vision of life's verities, which includes "hot sauce and a Sunday Times/Dedicated lefties and some underwater rhymes." Lobos might be the finest rock 'n' roll band of its time, and as a genuinely interactive and egalitarian roots ensemble, they're nothing less than the band of their era. Truth be told, the relatively unassuming Soul Disguise is a finer solo move than anything Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, or Rick Danko ever managed.

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