A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Los Lonely Boys & The Weakerthans.
NOT LONELY ANY MORE: Texas-based threesome Los Lonely Boys have released only one album, but the soulful guitar handiwork of Henry Garza displays a relaxed confidence well beyond his 25 years. Whether augmenting Latin rhythms or a more traditional blues structure, his solos give the group a pleasant, back-porch elegance.
Citing Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Richie Valens as boyhood heroes, Garza leads his band of brothers -- Jojo plays bass and Ringo plays drums, of course -- through what he describes as a "music burrito." His flashy designs work their way around mid-tempo rockers and adult ballads with the exuberance of a man who is eager to show off what he learned from his Santana records. Even when he's working with a slow-dance groove like "More Than Love," which should be a wedding staple for years to come, Garza provides enough of a lift to turn Los Lonely Boys into a party band for a sundown barbecue.
Garza's solos don't clutter the songs, and Los Lonely Boys are often more intent on providing a memorable melody built around the trio's refined arrangements and impressive, Los Lobos-influenced backing harmonies. Yet, as polished as Los Lonely Boys can sometimes sound on their self-titled debut, Ringo keeps the album feeling live with his free-form approach. On a moment's notice, he can shift a song from a rock-based beat to an explosive smattering of jazzy pulses, which kick-starts a song like "Onda" just when it seemed like the band was going to meander into jam-band territory.
The brothers got their start by playing with their father, who employed his teenage sons as his backing band. At that stage, the Boys were essentially a country cover band, an influence that still permeates their work. Songs on the band's first offering such as "Heaven" and "Drive Mi Amor" follow in the tradition of Tex-Mex legends like the Sir Douglas Quintet. What's more, Willie Nelson hasn't been shy about his admiration for the band, regular drafting the Boys as a support act.
The country elder has gotten the music world to pay attention to Los Lonely Boys, and he even makes an appearance on album closer "La Contestacion." With Nelsonregularly hyping the band, it insured that Los Lonely Boys would have a built-in following when the group's Or Music debut was released. While much of the album's U.S. sales stem from the Southwest, the action has been strong enough to keep the set on Billboard's Independent Albums chart. The album debuted at No. 13, and was down to No. 32 last week.
Los Lonely Boys tour constantly, and have dates lined-up through early November, both as a headliner and a support act to Nelson.
SCHOOL IS IN:The latest album from Canadian pop act the Weakerthans was released just as students across the U.S. were returning to college. A coincidence, perhaps, but "Reconstruction Site" sometimes sounds as if it were specifically constructed for play on college radio.
It's not just that the band is able to tap into the sort of indie pop favored by the likes of the Get Up Kids and Jets to Brazil, it's that the Weakerthans are a well-read band that asks the same of its audience. Few bands would be brave enough to put French philosopher Michael Foucault in the name of a song, or a declare a tune is inspired on "Times Arrow" by British author Martin Amis.
It's the kind of posturing that would seemingly render the Weakerthans inaccessible to non-liberal arts majors, but leader John K. Samson ensures the band never gets too artsy, and seemingly weighty songs glide by with easy-to-hum melodies.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Samson is best when he drops the literate references and aims for a more universal topic. On "Plea From a Cat Named Virtue," he writes from the point-of-view of his cat over a simple, power-pop melody. His pet chastises him for sleeping as much as it does and threatens to bite if its owner doesn't get his act together. "All you ever want to do is drink and watch TV, and frankly that thing doesn't really interest me," Samson sings while the song abruptly drops into a keyboard-only bridge.
Elsewhere, the Weakerthans don pedal and lap steel guitars, giving "Reconstruction Site" more of a folk-rock slant than the band's previous two efforts. "A New Name for Everything" is a glossy take on alt-country, and the somber, acoustic-driven "One Great City!" offers differing opinions on the band's home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, one from the lower class and one from the wealthy businessmen ruling the community.
Samson formed the band shortly after leaving punk act Propagandhi. The Weakerthans shy away from his former group's aggressive, left wing rants, but remain independent. "Reconstruction Site" is the group's first effort released in conjunction with Epitaph Records, and the larger label's promotional and distribution boost has helped the critically acclaimed act find a wider audience.
"Reconstruction Site" bowed last week at No. 28 on Billboard's Independent Albums tally, marking the group's first appearance on any of the magazine's charts. The title also reached the Billboard's Heatseekers chart at No. 49.
The Weakerthans will be touring North America through November.