Over the past decade, Los Lobos has traveled beyond the Chicano-flavored roots music of its early records, venturing into the realm of experimentation and pure ideas and often abandoning the conventional songwriting it had previously mastered. The sound of '90s-era Los Lobos was entrenched in the band's ethnic heritage, yet also plugged into musical and artistic modernity—the sound of a transistor radio in a dusty Mexican village, picking up signals from outer space. Los Lobos' latest album, Good Morning Aztlán, returns to straightforward pop craftsmanship, with a sturdy compound of twangy rock, MOR soulfulness, and Latin acoustica. The framework is established on the first three tracks—-the stomping "Done Gone Blue," the bluesy "Hearts Of Stone," and the spicy "Luz De Mi Vida." Then the band essentially repeats the pattern throughout the disc's remainder, sometimes descending to bland, Clapton-style beer-commercial soundtracks, but more often applying its trademark smoke. On the whole, Los Lobos' new songs may not match the light, deep masterworks of How Will The Wolf Survive? and The Neighborhood, but for heartfelt heartland (via California) rock, Good Morning Aztlán is hard to beat. Edgy roots-rocker Alejandro Escovedo also veers somewhat toward the mainstream on his latest project, By The Hand Of The Father. Previously known for dark-hued, minimalist song-poems in the tradition of Hank Williams, Leonard Cohen, and Lou Reed, Escovedo softens the arrangements on By The Hand Of The Father, working strings, accordion, and mandolin into grandiose norteño. The album derives from a traveling performance piece, which strings together new and old Escovedo compositions with spoken-word links to tell stories about first-generation Mexican-Americans in the 20th century. The romantic waltz "Rosalie" gains between-verse recitations of letters from long-distance sweethearts, the galloping "Hard Road" turns into a lecture from father to daughter, and throughout the record, the sentiments in Escovedo's work get ascribed to specific characters. Elaborate instrumentation blunts some of the songs' immediacy, but the theatrical trappings deepen the connections between the music and lyrics, and the overt acknowledgment of ethnicity makes Father strikingly personal in a different way than the singer-songwriter's usual work. The album isn't ideal for Escovedo novices, but it should be profoundly meaningful to fans.