A co-worker expressed the opinion while listening to Malo’s first album that perhaps the worst thing for both Malo and Santana were the Santana brothers themselves. The need for Carlos and Jorge to ruin the groove set by the rhythm section with a guitar solo plagued each band as time went on. Their audience loved it but soon it became formulaic and an instant cliché for Chicano bands for years to come. But when the style was fresh, everyone around the world wanted to sound like them, including the artists themselves who originally influenced the Chicano sound. Notice how many artists, including Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, The Fania All-Stars and The Isley Brothers, started to sound like Santana, Malo & El Chicano at one point or another.
Malo’s self-titled album came out in 1972. By then, Carlos was world famous and jamming with the likes of John McLaughlin and Miles Davis. Malo came out of two San Francisco bands-- The Malibus and Naked Lunch (named after the infamous William Burroughs book). There were a few differences between Malo and Santana. For one, Malo had a horn section, giving them that Chicago/Blood Sweat & Tears sound. The other difference is that along with the jams, they had songs. Songs like "Café" and "Pana" are still the blueprints of Chicano Rock today, from the house band at Rick’s Burgers in Alhambra to Carlos Santana's multi-Grammy award winning Supernatural. Like most Chicano bands, Malo was a mixed race band and a hodgepodge of both Latin and Anglo influences. You can hear flashes of Miles Davis In A Silent Way on "Just Say Goodbye" and Joe Bataan’s influence on "Nena."
The “breakthrough” album is something most critically acclaimed artists have to contend with. It’s the pressure to get to that elusive “next level.” Sometimes the pressure comes from outside sources, such as the record label or management. Other times it’s self-induced. It’s the desire to grow out of the confines of one’s fan base in order to seek a larger audience. Perhaps the move is purely artistic, to grow into a new sound or a new image, damn the loyalists and critics!
Lila Downs’ latest release, Shake Away, is just that. It is an attempt to go beyond the confines of a cult following. It is her chance to shed her past image as the token Mexican Diva and perhaps become a household Diva. Out of the sixteen songs on the album, more than half are in English, which should make her songs more accessible to a non-Spanish speaking audience.
That should make songs such as "Little Man," a Mexican Banda song (the style of which usually has most Americanos groaning) made easily digestible with English lyrics and a guitar solo. It is an “every person” song of the working immigrant, just trying to get by like everyone else. But the problem with the songs is that it lacks the spice, the flavor, and the balls for one to care about the immigrant that does the jobs that no one wants to do. The same problem exists within "Minimum Wage," a song about the trials and tribulations of immigrants in the U.S. by way of Loretta Lynn. It’s a down home country vibe that’s awkward at best, with the message getting lost on the train to Nashville. These two songs feel like Lila is both trying too hard and trying too much. Another sign of that is her version of "Black Magic Woman," a duet with pop singer Raul Mídon. Upon first listen I could almost hear the music executives saying:
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Sleater-Kinney's "You're No Rock n Roll Fun" is such a perfect rock song! And the video is hottness.
A long time ago, I read that this song was inspired in part by Elliott Smith, who tended to be withdrawn and commonly wanted to sit in the corner and hear one song over and over again at parties, lost in thought. It was supposed to be an affectionate calling out of sorts. Either way, the song's a blast.