Wayne Bledsoe: Los Lobos' 'Kiko' still mesmerizes

"Kiko," Los Lobos (Shout/Rhino)

In 1992, Los Lobos released what might have been the defining album of the band's career. No, it wasn't filled with a stack of hits. It didn't contain any. And, in many minds, the group would always be associated with their one hit — a remake of "La Bamba," which was featured in the movie biography of Richie Valens. For others, it was the band's edgy and lovable debut album, "Will the Wolf Survive?," the title cut of which even earned a cover by country star Waylon Jennings, that defined the group.

Yet, it was "Kiko" that was the band's masterpiece. On "Kiko," the group, who once referred to themselves as "just another band from East L.A.," showed the breadth of their musical knowledge, their depth as songwriters and their willingness to take chances. With Mitchell Froom, who co-produced the disc with the band, Los Lobos created a package that contained mystery, grit and pure beauty. This 20th anniversary edition of the album proves that "Kiko" is no less vibrant and lovable than it was two decades ago. The rock 'n' roll and blues are still bracing and the rootsy Mexican folk and atmospheric elements are still entrancing.

This edition adds five tracks (two demos, three live) and Shout has also released a DVD and CD edition of the band performing the songs live in 2006.

It's cool to hear the band still sounding so good in the new millennium, but the original "Kiko" is one of those albums that everyone should own.

"Saro," Andra Kouyate (Studio Mali)

In Mali, the music must flow like the Niger river. The landlocked West African nation produced many of world music's greats — from guitar wizard Ali Farka Toure to kora master Toumani Diabate to vocalist Oumou Sangare and Saharan band Tinarawen. With all those musicians, tradition is strong, but they are not afraid to blend whatever sounds they hear into their own styles.

It's that tradition that Andra Kouyate embraces on his new album "Saro." Kouyate comes from a family of respected griots — the musicians and storytellers revered for their ability to pass on history and culture. Kouyate's instrument of choice is a n'goni (sometimes considered to be the precursor of the banjo) that he has modified to include bass strings.

Kouyate and his band, Seke Chi, and a collection of guests (including Malian greats Amadou and Mariam) create a beguiling combination of sounds associated with Mali (sweet, easygoing grooves and traditional African instruments) blended with funk, rock and pop. It's sometimes danceable, sometimes hypnotic and always enjoyable.

For newcomers to world music or Malian music Kouyate's "Saro" is a fine place to get a taste of how beautiful it can be.

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