But the real gauge, always, is in the things we don’t expect, the things that take the band, and us, to new places.
The set’s second song, “When We Were Free,” is a dreamy meditation, slinky and seductive, a sort of jazzy tone poem. Here, gloriously, are the collective talents of Hidalgo, Rosas, Louie Perez, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin.
Four of those five have played together for more than 40 years, since they were teens in East L.A. getting wedding and party gigs. And Berlin joined more than 30 years ago, in the time when the band had taken hold in the post-punk Hollywood roots music scene.
Well, ever since 1992’s landmark “Kiko” — a magic-realism reinvention of the band — it’s seemed that anything was possible from Los Lobos. And yet this song hits with surprise and delight.
The music here is only possible with that kind of community, family feel. (And to accent that and move it forward, the drummer on the album is one David Hidalgo Jr., an already established player with time in Social Distortion, Suicidal Tendencies and other bands, as well as occasional stints with his dad’s band on the road in recent years.)
Now, we could spend a lot of time talking about that history. But esteemed journalist Chris Morris has taken care of that with his new, detailed and definitive book, “Los Lobos: Dream in Blue.” His central point is that the Los Lobos story isn’t only about East L.A., or the Mexican-American experience. It’s an American story.
As expansive as this band’s sound and stance can be, “Gates of Gold” is marked by an inward, ruminative tone. That’s established from the start with the opening song, the sorrowful, loss-filled “Made to Break Your Heart,” with guest Syd Straw joining in on vocals. But while the words are sad, the sturdy, engaging Americana-ism of the music keeps the door open to hope.