Who'd have ever thought Walt Disney Records — or "Disney Sound," as it's called here — would be responsible for one of this year's most enjoyable albums, not just for kids but for rock fans and adults as well? But, then, has Los Lobos ever been responsible for a disc that's even remotely bad?
No matter what you think of Disney as a man or an industry, he remains an eternal pop cultural giant, and his iconic name has been attached to some truly great and genuinely classic pop music over the last seven decades (well, maybe we can exclude the last 15 years or so of post-Mouseketeers hitmakers like Britney and Justin … but we're talking music associated with the brand and the movies here). Brian Wilson and John Lennon both freely admitted they got the inspiration for two of their respective biggest early hits from an Uncle Walt soundtrack. And the vast Disney catalog offers an assortment of styles, allowing Los Lobos to mine their musical eclecticism and versatility, as well as their stunning chops, on these 13 tracks.
This isn't the first time the Lobos dudes have "gone" Disney; they covered "I Wanna Be Like You" (originated by Louis Prima) from The Jungle Book for Stay Awake, producer Hal Willner's often dark Disney tribute rock album in the late '80s. A newly recorded version of that song is included here, as is "The Bare Necessities," a childhood fave from the same film, which is one of only a few tracks the band performs totally straightforward, adhering to Phil Harris' original version. And it works because, well, it's just a damn great song. But "Heigh-Ho" — the seven dwarfs' joyful "off-to-work" song from Snow White that opens the album — is sung completely in Spanish, and its nervous rock intensity and energy makes for a blend that's somewhat sentimental but still makes this listener, at least, think of those dozens of sad Mexican day laborers standing on the streets, looking for work, on any given day in Los Angeles.
Two songs are from the lesser-known cartoon version of Robin Hood because — why else? I'd forgotten! — the score for that flick was written by Roger Miller. Randy Newman, the Sherman Brothers and Peggy Lee (the lovely "Bella Notte," from Lady & the Tramp) also get nods. There are a few genuine surprises (the delightful "Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" from the Disney theme park attraction; a bluesy "Grim Grinning Ghosts," from the Haunted Mansion, perfect for your Halloween playlist!), as well as a unique take on the always-wonderful "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." And their jazzy take on "Cruella De Vil," from 101 Dalmatians, is as good as, if not better than, the scrappy one by the Replacements on the aforementioned Willner tribute disc. If that's not enough, the rockin' dudes wrap it all with a genuine California surf instrumental version of "When You Wish Upon a Star — the glorious archetypal melody that inspired Wilson to compose "Surfer Girl" — mixed with "It's a Small World," the latter of which surely remains in the collective unconscious of every person who's ever visited, or just dreamed of visiting, Disneyland as a kid. On their latest disc, Los Lobos succeed in reminding their listeners that childhood wasn't all bad nor were childhood joys always fleeting.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.