Throughout its 30-year existence, Los Lobos has been both a leader and a follower in the roots-rock movement—first joining The Blasters and X in pumping twang into the L.A. punk scene at the turn of the '80s, then actively searching for a way to move that sound forward by the decade's end. The futurist path led to the door of producer Mitchell Froom, who spent the '90s convincing traditionalists to replace acoustic guitars with random items plucked from salvage yards. Ever since its initial Froom flirtation, Los Lobos has swung between back-to-basics Tex-Mex and weirdly clanking experiments.
The Ride, Los Lobos' 30th-anniversary celebration album, encapsulates a career's worth of styles in one full hour. The opening trio of songs sets the tone: "La Venganza De Los Pelados" hews close to old-school Mexican dance music (albeit with herky-jerky rhythms and grim Spanish lyrics), "Rita" is a dreamy, country-tinged ballad, and "Is This All There Is?" is gritty, horn-soaked R&B. Of the three, only "Rita" is a standout—it's beautifully somber—but taken collectively, the songs illustrate Los Lobos' range. It's a reassuring eclecticism, if only because it means thudding blues duds like "Charmed" sit side by side with tracks as light and sweet as "Somewhere In Time."
The latter track features vocals by Dave Alvin, and Elvis Costello pops up later to offer his take on the Los Lobos chestnut "Matter Of Time." Garth Hudson adds organ to few tracks, Richard Thompson sings and plays guitar on "Wreck Of The Carlos Rey," Ruben Blades contributes to "Ya Se Va," Tom Waits gives up some grunts and banging on "Kitate," and on the album's centerpiece, a medley of "Wicked Rain" and "Across 110th Street," Bobby Womack takes the lead vocal and slips into something like melancholy rapture. The Ride is both party and primer, taking listeners through what one set of musicians has learned about their craft over 30 years. The picture is similar to the one on Los Lobos' last couple of records: some polished bar-band moves, some weirdness, and some sublime, neo-classic rock songs, like the sinewy "Chains Of Love," to remind everyone what a combination of doggedness and adventurousness can produce.