Concrete Blonde Y Los Illegals

Concrete Blonde Y Los Illegals
(Ark 21)

FOR DECADES, LOS ANGELES has been a center of American punk rock and its bastard descendants. And for much longer, the city has been a focal point for Latino culture in the U.S. But while the pairing of the two to form a hybrid genre of "alternative norteño" would seem natural and inevitable, to date, only Los Lobos have been able to bridge the distance that separates Sunset Strip from East L.A. It is, after all, a sprawling metropolis.

In the wake of California's recent Proposition 187--which threatens to further prohibit immigrant communities from integrating with the mainstream culture--two Los Angeles bands from opposite sides of the river have joined in solidarity, together exploring what happens when one consciously attempts to mix Hollywood-style hard rock with the proud voices and musical styles of the barrio. So follows a musical collaboration between two veteran Angeleno bands: Concrete Blonde and Los Illegals.

Concrete Blonde Y Los Illegals is a good move for both bands. For Los Illegals, the album provides national exposure the four-piece hasn't enjoyed since it released a major-label record in 1983. For the former--which has comprised singer Johnette Napolitano and guitarist Jim Mankey for more than a decade (their supposed breakup of a few years ago aside)--the album is perhaps the first really good recording the band has ever made.

From an update of the traditional "La Llorona" to a rocking cover of the Gipsy Kings' "Caminando" and the punk speedster "Xich Vs. The Migra Zombies," rock conventions constantly intermingle with Latin touches; guitars that crunch and riff, or scream in solos, meet flamenco guitars and rapid handclaps. Lyrics shift freely between English and Spanish--sung both by Napolitano and Los Illegals--covering subjects as timeless and tragic as Woody Guthrie's migrant lament "Deportee" or as timely and hilarious as the O.J.-inspired "Odeto Rosa Lopez" ("You're the ultimate subversive, Rosa/ Dressing down in your moth-eaten jumpsuit to make Marcia Clark look like the petty yuppie she is"). Take that, Pete Wilson. (Roni Sarig)

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