Los FabuLocos "Cali-Mex" ... California-bred Roots

Their second CD "Dos" provides a blast of fresh, clean style and sound

Published on LatinoLA: July 20, 2011

Los FabuLocos "Cali-Mex" ... California-bred Roots

The late Doug Sahm popularized the "Tex-Mex" sound back in the late 1960s with his ground-breaking band the Sir Douglas Quintet and, later, across a handful of acclaimed solo albums that influenced everybody from Los Lobos and the Latin Playboys to Joe Ely and the Mavericks. The Texas Tornados, Sahm's 1990s-era band with former Sir Douglas bandmate Augie Meyers on keyboards, accordionist Flaco Jimenez, and country star Freddy Fender, took Sahm's inspired blend of roots-rock, Bakersfield-styled country twang, Texas blues, Cajun spice, and Mexican Tejano influences to the higher regions of the country charts.

Los Fabulocos doesn't so much as carry on in Sahm's Tex-Mex tradition as create one of their own that they term "Cali-Mex," reflecting the band members' California-bred roots. There's not a whole heck of a lot of difference, though, between Sahm's original musical vision and that of Los Fabulocos, and every song the band touches displays the same sort of reckless, joyful spirit as any of Sahm's work. Formed in 2004 by singer and accordionist Jesus Cuevas and drummer Mike Molina - both alumni of the East L.A. roots-rock band the Blazers - they added bassist James Barrios, a Bakersfield country scene veteran, the following year. With the addition of fiery blues guitarist David "Kid" Ramos, a member of blues-rock legends the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Los Fabulocos found the sound they were searching for, and the band released their acclaimed self-titled debut album in 2008.

Flash forward a couple of years and Los Fabulocos has chalked up some impressive mileage on the road, performing as far afield as Norway as well as across the U.S., including the band's Southern Texas and California strongholds. The touring has done the foursome well, honing their sound and putting a shine on the band's immense chemistry as revealed by their appropriately-named sophomore album, Dos. With a greater reliance on Cuevas' well-written originals, mixed in with revved-up versions of traditional Mexican songs, Dos provides a blast of fresh, clean style and sound for ears weary of the same old sonic bludgeoning that is modern rock music.

While Cuevas's throaty vocals remind of those of David Hildago of Los Lobos, they remain just the smallish bit less forceful, resting comfortably in the middle of the mix, letting the music wash over them. The rhythm section of bassist Barrios and drummer Molina kick out the jams with the best of them, driving each song with power and precision, while Cuevas' tasty accordion flourishes and Ramos' nimble fretwork fill in the corners. Dos kicks off with what is probably the closest that Los Fabulocos comes to sounding like Los Lobos, the soulful "Everything Will Turn Out Alright" a radio-ready mid-tempo rocker with crying guitar, bittersweet accordion riffs, and what is probably Cuevas' most nuanced vocal turn. In the perfect rock 'n' roll world I imagine in my dreams, this song would dominate the blues, roots, and indie rock worlds with its heartfelt sound and simple charm.

Los Fabulocos only crank up the amps from here, "The Vibe" a jaunty Cali-Mex flavored rocker with rapid-paced vocals, splinters of rockabilly-tinged guitar, a machinegun rhythm with explosive drumbeats and, of course, lively accordion play with the notes flooding your senses. "Los Chucos Suaves" is one of several Spanish-language songs on Dos, and perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch. With a clunky, syncopated beat and a throbbing bass line intro, the accordion kicks in alongside Cuevas's vocals, creating a mesmerizing albeit dark vibe. Ramos' six-string additions run from echoed surf-guitar riffs to furious blasts of notes roaring above the song's choogling rhythm.

"She Wakes Up Crying" is another up-tempo, Los Lobos-styled performance with a great lyrical storyline of love and determination with a spiritual touch, Cuevas's accordion riffs complimenting his warm vocals, which embrace the song's characters with no little empathy as Ramos's guitar rattles and buzzes in the background. "What's In My Heart" is an enchanting love song with an almost polka-like beat, constant roller-coaster accordion, and an energetic drumbeat behind the emotional vocals while a cover of Little Richard's "Keep A Knockin'" is provided a sly blend of zydeco rhythms, wiry rockabilly/surf guitar, and a little New Orleans flavor beneath the song's brilliant English/Spanish vocal blend.

Multi-lingual roots-rock with a heavy Hispanic influence may not be every music lover's cup o' tea, but for those listeners with an open heart and ears, Los Fabulocos will scratch that itch you've had since the Texas Tornados broke up, or maybe even back to the Sir Douglas Quintet days. Give it a chance and you'll find that Dos will happily fill your ears with its rich mix of musical styles and the band's talented, inspired performances.

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