Don't go figure, it's not about hip You won't get it, it's a Latin trip...
Moody, mysterious and altogether mesmerizing, "DOSE" marks the long-awaited return of Latin Playboys, a unique musical collaboration between Los Lobos members David Hidalgo and Louie Perez with renowned producer/musicians Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake (Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello). At turns primal and exotic, otherworldly and unaffected, Latin Playboys' distinctive blend of intuitive songwriting and junkyard sonics defies easy categorization. Equal parts rock 'n' roll, jazz, R&B, and a multitude of ethnic musics, "DOSE" blurs not only genre, but the very fabric of time and space.
"Latin Playboys isn't only global," says Perez, "it's a cosmic thing."
"This is music that happens for all the right reasons," offers Hidalgo.
"DOSE" -- Latin Playboys' Atlantic debut and second overall -- finds this unusual aggregate furthering their remarkably idiosyncratic and expansive music, again pushing the walls of sound with an inspired sense of derring-do. The four members' multi-faceted influences are woven into a kaleidoscopic whole, evidenced by on such tracks as the percolating "Paletero" or the psychoactive title track.
"There's a lot of raw beauty to it," says Froom. "It's also funny, in a very free-spirited way. I was trying to figure out how to articulate it, and it's kind of like the Sixties, where the idea was to make music that gives you the idea that anything is possible."
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The song of Latin Playboys began back in 1993, following the conclusion of Los Lobos' "KIKO," the famed East L.A. rock 'n' roll band's collaboration with the producer/engineer team of Froom and Blake.
"We finished 'KIKO,' and that was such a great experience, I guess it kind of bled over into what became Latin Playboys," Hidalgo recalls. "We realized that we could do whatever we felt like, just anything goes. It felt liberating."
Though the album sessions were over, Hidalgo was fit to burst with new musical ideas. The guitarist soon found himself filling tape after tape with the sounds springing from his unconscious.
"The first album started in my kitchen," he remembers. "I'd set up the four-track and start going through the drawers looking for stuff to play with, just fooling around with the butter knives, sticking them underneath the strings to see what happens."
"David gave me the tapes he was making," Perez recalls. "I called up Mitchell and said, 'Hey, there's something cool going on here...'"
"LATIN PLAYBOYS" received a bounty of acclaim upon its March 1994 release. Rolling Stone noted that "the music is fresh and open, unconcerned with the refinement of aesthetic closure," and hailed the album as "a raw jewel of pure groove." The Village Voice's Robert Christgau awarded the record an "A -," describing it as "magical, mystical, the kind of inner-child fantasia that rarely escapes self-indulgence." In addition to the rapturous reviews, "LATIN PLAYBOYS" became a beloved totem for music fans and hepcats everywhere.
"It's amazing how much mileage it got," says Perez. "A whole mystique started to grow around it."
"It's really something," Froom muses. "It's the record I hear most about, more than the most commercially successful records that I've worked on. If someone comes up to me and mentions something about my work, it will be that record."
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The aftershocks of "LATIN PLAYBOYS" have permeated the musicians' subsequent work, from Los Lobos' 1996 "COLOSSAL HEAD" to Froom's 1998 Atlantic solo debut, "DOPAMINE." For "DOSE," the Playboys had a more-defined sense of where they were going with their unencumbered music.
"I have a better feel now for what Latin Playboys are," Hidalgo says. "As the ideas come up, I go, 'Oh, that sounds like a Latin Playboys tune.' And if I can't figure it out, I'll ask Louie."
"Process, for most groups, falls into a formula," Perez says. "Some groups go into rehearsals and pick apart the songs, some groups take the new songs on the road to work out the kinks. I remember Mitchell saying -- and I remember this word for word -- he said, 'I leave the studio and I feel like the whole world is upside down!' This is not what a producer is used to. For things to just happen."
"Everybody's got ideas and we try stuff out," says Froom. "When you work with guys as good as this, it all goes back and forth. There is no single credit for anything."
Latin Playboys take a very practical approach to the instruments used. While all four are avowed collectors of keyboards, guitars, and other music-making gadgetry, Latin Playboys make no calculated effort towards incorporating oddball instruments for the sake of it. Rather, they tend to simply use the tools at hand.
"It's usually just what's in the house," says Hidalgo. "Not necessarily my best guitar, but the one that's leaning against the couch, that's the one that gets used."
"There's no reverential quality to the instruments used," echoes Froom. "The strength is in limiting yourself to just a couple of things and then making it work."
The extraordinary result of Latin Playboys' instinctive modus operandi is a steamy potion of blues, border radio, soul, acid rock, funk, Asian film scores, and who knows what else?
"It borrows from so many different places," says Perez. "It's the idea of putting very different things up against each other."
"Dave brings in so many kinds of music into it," Froom says. "Like, he'll watch some Taiwanese beauty pageant on TV and listen to how the band's playing and that'll give him an idea of how something else can work. He's always bringing something new to the party."
The lyrical approach in Latin Playboys' songwriting -- like the music -- gleefully traverses the boundaries of language into a melting pot of idiom, dialect and culture.
"David hands me a bunch of music on cassette," explains Perez, "in all different shapes and forms. I'll just throw it in the car for a while and get the general feeling of what's it's telling me. Then I'll show up at the studio with a cassette in one hand and a pile of paper in the other. Somehow, at the end of the day, we have a song."
Though Perez's work in Los Lobos tends towards narrative, Latin Playboys gives him the opportunity to stretch out in a more abstract and intimate manner.
"I've always been very impressed with Chinese poetry and Japanese literature, the whole Zen approach to painting and writing," says Perez. "I think the closest that I'm getting to that approach is with Latin Playboys."
The frosting on "DOSE" is an aural paintbox of real world sounds which add to the wild quality of this music. Blake is an inveterate collector and producer of field recordings, and so birds chirp on "Lemon N' Ice," screen doors swing shut on "Latin Trip," and a ringing swirls through the closing rave-up, "Paula Y Fred."
"Those are bicycle bells," Blake explains. "That's me walking down the middle of a busy street in a little town on the Ganges in India and all these bicycles whizzing by me, with people going to work!"
Hidalgo's singing -- alternately wise, warm, and weary -- breathes emotional life into cinematic short stories such as the stunning "Cuca's Blues" ("a movie in three minutes," says Perez). Wildly careening sound collages such as "Nubian Priestess" veer head-on into lush moments of beauty like the sensual "Lemon N' Ice. "
"DOSE" finds the Playboys' big picture supplemented by a supporting cast which includes alterna-songstress Tracy Bonham (who contributes violin to the slinky album-opening instrumental, "Fiesta Erotica") and famed drummer Jerry Marotta (whose drum loop is featured on "Lemon N' Ice"). In addition, "Lemon N' Ice" and "Latin Trip," mark the harmony debut of the LPGs -- that's Latin Playgirls to you -- a.k.a. Wendy and Lisa, late of Prince's Revolution, and whose 1998 album, "THE GIRL BROS.," was produced by Blake.
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With the long-awaited "DOSE" finally released into the culture, plans are currently being worked out for the first full-scale Latin Playboys tour.
"It seems the music is not as complicated as it may sound," notes Hidalgo. "It can be broken down into a small group. We try to take the ego out of it. It should be humble music."
"We're trying to come up with some ideas that are simple but effective," Froom says of plans to recreate the Playboys' spontaneous magic in a concert setting.
Whatever Latin Playboys get up to, listeners would be well advised to expect the unexpected. The indescribably delicious "DOSE" is the ideal antidote to the pre-millennial chill.
"It's raw," says Froom, "like folk art. People have described the first one as music that could have been unearthed on a tropical island. I think this is more urban, more in the American culture."
"What I like about Latin Playboys is that everybody's focus is the same," Hidalgo says. "Everybody wants to do the same thing. Everybody's heading in the same direction: we don't know where we're going, but we're going together." 3/99