Critics' Picks

The Blazers

I've always thought of The Blazers as the younger brothers of Los Lobos. Of course, The Blazers remind me at times of Los Lobos in their early days, back before Lobos discovered their ability to be as expansive with roots music as The Band, and as artistic, in their own way, as such progressive rockers as Peter Gabriel. But one can also hear in The Blazers the garage-rock potency of fellow Southern Californians The Blasters. These four East Los Angelenos are, in live performance, what I call a beer band--after two or three beers, they sound like the greatest band in the world. Raw and energetic, The Blazers live up to their name when they hit the stage, playing with a scorching passion that leaves smoke in their wake.

Given such inclinations, the band's just-released album, Puro Blazers, plays like an even nicer surprise. Although the group's Mexican-American roots have always been a factor in their music and shows, rocking has always seemed like the prime Blazers directive. But this time out, they offer their own take on their heritage with a collection of cumbias, polkas, and a bolero, singing entirely in Spanish. Of course, the very move begs comparison with Los Lobos, whose first recording was also traditional. Yet the difference remains, with The Blazers making the similar move well into their career--and, some would say, too late. Even though they tread the same ground that Los Lobos have explored masterfully, The Blazers do something distinctly their own with it.

The contrast between how both bands' sound within their native context is something like this: Los Lobos go back to the barrio with far more reverence and purity, yet the way The Blazers approach tradition is with a purely rock-and-roll sensibility. Lurking underneath the Mexican-American instruments and material, there are still drums and electric guitar and bass, played in the old fashion, perhaps, but with a certain beer-band looseness mixed with sneaky attack. And here's another odd reflection on The Blazers' intertwined relationship with their neighborhood hombres: To my ears, Lobos are best at their grandest and most artistic, as on Kiko. But of everything I've heard from The Blazers, Puro Blazers is the most immediately captivating. Whether The Blazers rock or polka, their musical cooler may always be filled with cerveza, yet on this album there's also an immense heart beating loudly within every song.

Perhaps their vigorous rocking sometimes obscures that human beat underneath the playing. But on this swing through Texas, where their music makes as much sense as it does in East Los Angeles, I expect both sides of The Blazers will be burning with a hot blue flame. Wear your dancing boots, but make sure you have enough beers to also let your hair down when they cut loose and rock. For me, that's the sort of enchilada combo that gets my mouth watering.

Rob Patterson