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DAVE DAVIES, host:

"Tin Can Trust" is the name of the first collection of new original songs from Los Lobos in four years. The East L.A. band has been active since the '70s, and over the course of their career, they've done everything from opening for Bob Dylan, U2 and the Grateful Dead, to recording a tribute album to Walt Disney movie music.

Rock critic Ken Tucker says the group's new album can stand with their best work.

(Soundbite of song, "Burn it Down")

LOS LOBOS (Rock Band): (Singing) I didn't say a word. It's only destiny I've heard. The time had come for me to run away. Don't even turn around is what they say.

KEN TUCKER: Los Lobos are masters of creating moods, of summoning up a setting and putting you in the center of it. From their major-label debut "Will the Wolf Survive" to the new "Tin Can Trust," the band has always sung about people who take their pleasures where they can find them and who lead rich, imaginative lives. There's an entire world that opens up in the beautifully languid stroll described in one of the band's finest songs ever, "On Main Street."

(Soundbite of song, "On Main Street")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) (unintelligible) walking down the boulevard feeling the sun on my face. Watching Maggie (unintelligible) running all over the place. Got a red light. Got a green light, no matter which way I go. Down Main Street, down easy street is where I feel like I'm home.

TUCKER: One of the most impressive things about this album is the way Los Lobos shifts between a hard-boiled realism and a free, open lyricism. I'm not entirely sure what the lyrics of "Jupiter or the Moon" mean, but I know that the gorgeously eerie soundscape the song creates, with its bluesy ease and lunar jazz coolness, is a world I want to live in for a while.

(Soundbite of song, "Jupiter or the Moon")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) If I could turn night into day, you know I would. If I could make soil into gold, you know I would. Look for one up in the sky. Where have you gone, gone so soon as Jupiter over the moon?

TUCKER: To be sure, there's a certain fatalism to some of Los Lobos' music. This album features two songs in which the narrators use the phrase burning down to describe a scorched-earth approach to dispatching a troubled past, in hopes of building a better future. Yet, I can't think of an example over 30 years of music-making in which this band has resorted to cheap cynicism or knee-jerk nihilism. Whatever melancholy or hopelessness that can creep into a song, it's always tempered by precise detailing, whether it's a guitar line that lifts despair into a thing of beauty or a lyric suggesting that any state of mind is more complex than mere depression.

(Soundbite of song, "All My Bridges Burning")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) When you were young, taking time to believe, if only to survive what you got to believe. That when we, too, survive, survive in this world and this crazy life, got to give it a whirl. All my bridges burning, almost burning down. All my bridges burning, burning to the ground. Burning down. Burning down.

TUCKER: Los Lobos saved their most audacious song for the end of this album. Called "27 Spanishes," songwriters David Hidalgo and Louie Perez describe it as an attempt to tell quote, "the entire tale of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, blow by blow." I'm staggered to hear that they come awfully close to achieving just that, encased in a quiet, lean, mean blues epic.

(Soundbite of "27 Spanishes")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) Twenty-seven Spanishes arriving from the sea, blades of steel flashing, cutting down the eagle's(ph) tree. Came riding in on mountains, on red and silver feet, into the city of a serpent, so he could build a dream.

TUCKER: There isn't a false note on "Tin Can Trust." It moves with the assurance of men who have the confidence to follow the path a stray guitar or keyboard riff may take them, pursuing the implications of a simple, but tricky phrase like tin can trust. They let the listener fill in the blanks about what guitars, keyboards, accordion, fiddle and some blunt, yet poetic phrases have to say about the lives they see around them, and the lives we all live.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Tin Can Trust," the new album from Los Lobos. You can listen to every track from the album on nprmusic.org.

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