I’d hoped Los Lobos’s Tin Can Trust would be a continuation of all that was great about its predecessor, 2006’s The Town and the City, in which measured, slowly developing narratives were laid out carefully over chunky basslines and robust, layered percussion. But where that album seemed like a creative experiment, Tin Can Trust comes off as five musicians unceremoniously looking back at their impressive back catalogue. With its combination of acoustic rock, Spanish music, and mystical balladry, the album traverses all the styles Los Lobos has explored over the last 30 years—with a blues instrumental and a Grateful Dead cover perplexingly thrown in for good measure.
According to the press materials accompanying the album, Los Lobos came together in L.A., as guitarist Cesar Rosas recalls, “in a rundown neighborhood…to do what we hadn’t done in quite some time: play together in the same room.” What’s strange is that a lot of the material sounds more like studio musicians going through the motions than an organically produced creation of longtime bandmates. And why Susan Tedeschi was in that room to chime in on the raucous introductory track “Burn It Down” is not quite clear; her apparent mercenary presence only makes Tin Can Trust seem more contrived. The band expertly frolics throughout the aforementioned blues instrumental “Do the Murray,” but the decision to include a blues jam further convolutes the album’s personality, particularly as it is slotted in between the somber “Jupiter or the Moon” and the fatalistic ballad “All My Bridges Burning.”
The mellow “On Main Street” is the record’s best moment: The song’s guitar melody saunters with a low-end keyboard, each providing footing for Richard Hidalgo’s warm and unassuming vocals. Its unfortunate that Tin Can Trust doesn’t loiter on this street for longer than the track’s sparse three minutes. On the record’s title track, Hidalgo’s vocals are jacked to such a volume that they practically drown out the suddenly unsullied and formal instrumentation, rendering the song an awkwardly prim contrast to the festive Spanish selections “Yo Canto” and “Mujer Ingrata.” It’s this disparity that makes Tin Can Trust less of a band’s return to the creative canvas and more of a collection of hastily organized, disparate parts.