Kiko and that Lavender Moon

I can still see both their faces, the Los Lobos lovers and those who’d dismissed them as a roots rock band, albeit one with East Los Angelino Latino flavors, when the band’s masterpiece Kiko came out in 1992. One listen to “Angels With Dirty Faces,” or the odd, musical weeping willow tree that is the album’s title cut and of the two groups, the fans were probably more shocked because their heroes had gone all art rock on them. This was not the straight ahead, often danceable vibe the band had been purveying since the late 70’s. Sure, there were still tunes like “That Train Don’t Stop Here,” with Cesar Rosas singing lead or “Short Side of Nothing” riding on David Hidalgo’s angelic pipes that sounded like the past. Something like “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes.” But overall most of this was startlingly ambitious stuff.

Older fans were spooked and those who’d never heard of the band were suddenly piqued. This simple quintet of lifelong friends had stepped through the looking glass and were suddenly artists to be reckoned with by the larger music world. By the time listeners got twelve tracks into the CD, or onto side two of the LP, and heard the jaunty “Wicked Rain,” followed by the buzzin’ rock number “Whiskey Trail,” both fans and newcomers alike were hooked. There were banjos. There were violins. There were minor keys. And Mitchell Froom’s superb production job. David Hidalgo’s plaintive singing on the moody, piano-led “Just A Man” sealed the deal. They’d transcended East L.A. and were now an American Band. Not in the Grand Funk sense of the word, but in the sense of a collection of individuals who had much more to say and singular ways of saying it. While the band has made fine records since, the latest, live set Disconnected in New York City is typical, Kiko remains their high point.

And it’s being as far outside the box as they’d ever ventured before or since, that makes Kiko such a revelation even today. And when it comes to revelations, the spectacular new Mobile Fidelity 180 gram vinyl LP reissue of Kiko has changed what until this release was big game in the world of record collecting. Unknown to most American fans, when it first came out in 1992 Kiko was simultaneously released on LP in the Netherlands, Spain and Croatia. Until now, prices for copies in NM condition have routinely topped $100 on eBay and Discogs. I suspect the bottom will now drop out of the collectors market thanks to those indefatigable remastering mavens at MoFi. The sound quality of this new release is warm and alive and absolutely flawless! Anyone who wonders what all the fuss over new LPs these days is about needs to hold and examine and play this gorgeous artifact. I can almost guarantee a fetish will ensue.

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