Los Lobos‘ 1992 album Kiko is nothing short of fabulous. A tour de force of primitive rhythms, Latino percussion, gorgeous acoustic and muddy electric guitars, and melodic variance of epic Sgt. Pepper scale. Oh, and the album’s punctuated with baritone saxophone, not a common rock flourish, at least since about 1962.

In other words, it’s pure genius. I might argue its a top-five, all-time album, next to the likes of Exile on Main Street and the aforementioned Pepper, if one caught me  in a mood to argue such things (or held a gun to my head). It’s that good.

Part of what makes the album tick is the Lobos’ willingness to dip into whatever musical style that suits each particular song and bust out of whatever typecast that came before in their recorded repertoire. That’s not easy, especially when it comes at the expense of defying audience expectations.

Drunken mariachi (“Rio De Tenampa”),  dusty acoustic folk (“Two Janes”), countrified rock (“Reva’s House”), and a half-dozen other styles find their way on to Kiko—including rockin’ blues of the pre-Cream style.

That brings us to today’s Cold Shot, “That Train Don’t Stop Here,” proving that blues can pop up in the same old places—or where it’s completely unexpected. Songs like this say to me that the blues is a living, organic form, and not just marooned on old 78s in the Smithsonian‘s humidor.

In the title of its greatest-hits compilation, Los Lobos called itself “just another band from East. L.A.” I beg to differ—regardless of the humble beginnings, this band—and record—is one for the ages.

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