Perhaps it’s a side effect of our fast-paced, modern culture. Perhaps it’s the result of record companies always trying to hop on the latest bandwagon. Whatever the reason, American music seems strangely unaware of its roots. Here we are, a country populated by immigrants from every corner of the globe, and pretty much anything that doesn’t include a 4/4 beat or someone crooning “Ooh baby, baby” gets relegated to the most obscure and dusty corners of our musical consciousness. We criticize new bands for borrowing too liberally from the canons of Led Zeppelin or the Stones, while those bands were taken to task for steeping themselves too much in the blues. It’s almost as if we expect music to spring fully-formed and influence-free from our songwriters’ heads.
Los Super Seven, on the other hand, revels in its roots. On the group’s Tejano-fueled self-titled debut, Los Lobos stalwarts Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo brought together legends like Joe Ely, Flaco Jimenez, Doug Sahm, and Freddy Fender, and won a Grammy in 1998 for “Best Mexican-American Music Performance.” For Canto, the lineup shifts as Ely, Sahm, Fender, and Jimenez make way for Peruvian diva Susana Braca, Mavericks frontman Raul Malo, and Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso.
As a result, Canto casts its nets to farther reaches of Latin Music, bringing in rhythms and songs from Pan-Latin countries like Puerto Rico, Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba. The effect is super smooth — Steve Berlin’s warm, lush production invokes the warm nights when much of this music is probably played. Whereas the previous record felt slightly wind-burned and dusty — befitting its Tex-Mex roster — Canto is dressed to the nines, with plenty of spring in its step. Then, right when you’re convinced that you’ve walked into Heaven’s cantina, Susana Braca freezes you in your tracks with “Drumi Mobila”, a stark and plaintive lullaby that somehow seems Latin, Oriental, and Occidental all at once. In the heady rush of Canto’s rolling piano rhythms and warm guitar tones, it’s easy to dismiss “Drumi Mobila” as a misguided break in the mood, but it may very well be the emotional cornerstone of the album.
Of Canto‘s 12 tracks, only three break the standards mold. David Hidalgo penned the reflective “Calle Dieceseis” and the English-sung “Terese” specifically for these sessions. Cesar Rosas did likewise with “Campesino”, a song about migrant workers in California. It should be no surprise to anyone who’s followed Los Lobos or their many side projects that these original tunes fit seamlessly into the older, venerable company of the other songs. In short, the entire cast of Los Super Seven’s current roster achieves the improbable task of besting the previous album. With its joyous and welcoming feel, Canto is a welcome tonic to anyone who feels pretty sure there’s more to Latino music than Ricky Martin.