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Wolf on His Own

[whitespace] Cesar Rosas
Dan Pulcrano

Tough to Handle: The shades do little to disguise Los Lobos guitarist Cesar Rosas.

Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos goes solo on 'Soul Disguise'

By Nicky Baxter

JUST A FEW WEEKS ago, the Latin Playboys appeared in the South Bay. Co-captained by Los Lobos bandmates David Hidalgo and Louis Perez, the unit is on tour promoting its deliciously hallucinogenic new CD, Dose. Hot on the Playboys' heels, Cesar Rosas is on the road as well, drumming up business for his solo bow. Rosas, the other engine driving the Wolves' twin-guitar attack, appears this Saturday at Fuel for a two-show stand.

If Dose is air and water, then Rosas' Soul Disguise (Rykodisc) is earth and fire. An avid fan of roots music, Rosas reaffirms his affinity for blues, R&B and Tex-Mex. Though Rosas doesn't possess the choir-boy pipes of Hidalgo, his gravelly vocal style packs an emotional impact befitting his new material. Stripped of the luxuriant sheen of Los Lobos' more recent output, Soul Disguise's rough-hewn sound harkens back to rock & roll's early heyday.

"Tough to Handle," for instance, is a menacing blues-smudged number grounded by a simple but effective two-note bass line, jack-hammer drumming and Rosas' chunky guitar riff. Rosas' Hendrixian wah-wah wired solo is the only fancy thing about the song--that and the outro, during which the guitarist unleashes a torrential cloud burst of shuddering feedback.

"You've Got to Lose," an Ike Turner shuffle, is revisited as a echo-laden blues-rocker similar in feel to Rosas' "I Got to Let You Know" from Los Lobos' Will the Wolf Survive.

"Shack and Shambles" is chugging, funky Crescent City R&B. Aaron Ballestero's rolling New Orleans-flavored drumming sets the tune in motion, and Eddie Baytos' B-3 jittery Hammond strokes keep it there, underscoring the tune's herky-jerky pulse. Rosas' chicken-scratch rhythm guitar alternates between filling in the gaps and reiterating Baytos' B-3 interjections. "Treat Me Right" is cut from thematic and musical cloth similar to that of "Tough to Handle," the former fortified by an unidentified player's braying harmonica.

The ballad "Better Way" finds the guitarist in a reflective mood and showcases his adroitness as a multi-instrumentalist, layering angelic acoustic and muted electric guitars to achieve an aching wistful sound.

On "Adios Mi Vida" and "Angelito," Rosas affirms his allegiance to Mexican music with legendary accordionist Flaco Jimenez lending a helping hand. Both are sung in Spanish. "Adios" is taken at a deliberate pace. Jimenez's gently wheezing squeezebox accentuates Rosas' acoustic guitar and lovelorn lyric. "Angelito" is a spirited two-step affair with Jimenez's warbling accordion dancing out front.

On the title track, Rosas and his mates abandon retro-beat for an emphatically contemporary rock romp. Rosas' lyric is a stinging malediction against Devil Woman (the "girl-gone-bad" theme seems something of an obsession for the guitarist). The singer's acrid fulminations are fed through a distortion box, producing a compressed edginess.

The effect is further heightened by Rosas' chameleonlike guitar playing, panned from left speaker to right, crackling with menace one minute, spinning out lightninglike vertical chords the next. On the tune's coda, the band shifts into overdrive, the rhythm section pushing and pushing. Rosas' squalling wah-wah workout as the song fades out is deliriously evil. A real sparkler amid slightly lesser lights, "Soul Disguise" (along with the album opening "Little Heaven") ranks as one of the guitarist's finest moments.

Make no mistake: Cesar Rosas' Soul Disguise is not in the same league as Los Lobos' daringly adventurous musical excursions, nor does it possess the blissed-out allure of the Latin Playboys' sophomore outing. But taken on its own terms, this unprepossessing solo shot establishes that Rosas can, indeed, survive--even thrive--as a lone wolf.


Cesar Rosas plays Saturday (April 17) at 4 and 8:30pm at Fuel, 44 Almaden Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $15. (408/295.7374)

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From the April 15-21, 1999 issue of Metro.

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