There's really no way the Latin Playboys--David Hidalgo and Louie Perez of Los Lobos and producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake--could ever replicate the remarkable off-the-cuff feel of their 1994 debut. A side project that grew out of Froom and Blake's work on the Los Lobos album Kiko, Latin Playboys was unburdened by marketplace expectations, and its inventive genre hybridizations and first-rate songwriting still sound fresh today. In the bio that accompanied my copy of the group's new Dose (Atlantic), Froom, who has worked with Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Soul Coughing, Bonnie Raitt, and his wife, Suzanne Vega, among others, is quoted as saying, "If someone comes up to me and mentions something about my work, it will be [about the Latin Playboys]." So although members of Los Lobos have continued to flout expectations--the most recent example being Hidalgo's Houndog project, which makes the blues sound excitingly alien--the recording of Dose had to be a significantly more loaded situation. Still, if the album does lack some of the breezy spontaneity of its predecessor, it's a worthy, wonderful follow-up. Once again the production blends the muffled with the crystal clear--underwater percussion with brittle guitar lines--and each song casually incorporates unorthodox and exotic flavorings, from the acid psychedelia of "Fiesta Erotica" to the jury-rigged gamelan of the title track to the overdriven Tejano of "Paula y Fred." Yet if these compelling experiments weren't couched in hooky, rootsy, honest-to-goodness songs, they'd amount to little more than pretentious pomo bricolage. Hidalgo's terrific vocals consistently bring a sensual soul to the proceedings, and even strange instrumentals like "Nubian Priestess," something of an extended tribute to the urban-environmental sounds heard on Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City," revolve more around tactile sensation than virtuosic excess. The quality of the tunes should certainly ease the leap from studio to stage--this is the Playboys' first tour. Opener Lisa Germano, whose recent Slide (4AD) was produced by Blake, will join the band on violin. Friday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chapman Boehler.