TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The band Los Lobos, which is now in its fourth decade of music making, has a new album called "Gates Of Gold. It's their first studio album since 2010. Rock critic Ken Tucker says this album captures every phase of the band's career, while saluting musical influences and extending their sound in new directions.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MADE TO BREAK YOUR HEART")
LOS LOBOS: (Singing) It wasn't that I heard making sounds, move around in the night. In the second dream I had, you were gone, disappeared out of sight.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Full of thick, mysterious music, "Gates Of Gold" consists of Los Lobos songs that could have emerged from dreams or nightmares. The band's ability to summon up lonely landscapes and feelings of the worry and dread is in full force here. The song that started this review is called "Made To Break Your Heart." And as it proceeds, it's revealed that the thing that's made to break your heart is love. And heartbreak is one of the things David Hidalgo's voice was made to convey.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WE WERE FREE")
LOS LOBOS: (Singing) I used to feel that moment. It's a tender moment, when we would run and laugh and play. We'd sing about it, even shout about it. Didn't care about what they would say.
TUCKER: There are a wide variety of styles on this album, which takes a couple of fun side trips into blues rock. Los Lobos does its version of ZZ Top on "Mis-Treater Boogie Blues." And if you're going to nod the influence of Jimi Hendrix, "Too Small Heart" is the way to do it - all aggressive bluster and serene confidence.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO SMALL HEART")
LOS LOBOS: (Singing) Too small heart, got his kicks in Spain. All I found were some shoes in the rain. Too small heart...
TUCKER: The best music on "Gates Of Gold" is the stuff that is most musically opaque and discursive, with lyrics that are willfully vague. On a song like "There I Go," Hildago sings quietly over a shuffling drum pattern. Conrad Lozano's bass creeps along like a fugitive trying to escape a spotlight. The lyric, written like most of the songs here by Hidalgo and guitarist Louie Perez, is something about wandering, searching. Chasing forever is a key phrase. There's a kind of doom struck melancholy to a song whose lines include following the shadow of a dream.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE I GO")
LOS LOBOS: (Singing) There I go, much like a weed that's blown away, so like a child who lost his way. I keep on looking. It's all that I can do. There I go, under the road that never ends. So many turns (unintelligible) I keep on searching.
TUCKER: The centerpiece of its album is the title song - one of the best things Los Lobos has ever recorded. "Gates Of Gold" begins with a guitar figure that sounds almost like a mandolin. You think maybe the band is dipping of the country - and it is - but it's more like a country-blues. When Hildago starts to sing, the song shifts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GATES OF GOLD")
LOS LOBOS: (Singing) Far away, beyond those hills, is mystery untold. Far off, almost out of site, is beauty to behold. Which way do we go? You can't say that, I know. Some say it's a place where you never grow old. Lord knows what we'll find behind those gates of gold, behind those gates of gold.
TUCKER: Is "Gates Of Gold" a song about death, the pearly gates becoming golden gates opening into heaven, or is it a more earthbound destination, a journey each of us takes in life, hoping to find some comfort and satisfaction? This is the open-ended approach Los Lobos is so good at creating. "Gates Of Gold" may be a very personal song for the band, their acknowledgment that after decades of music making, there still more places they want - they need - to go.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for YahooTV. He reviewed "Gates Of Gold," the new release from Los Lobos. Lady Gaga stars in the new season of the FX series "American Horror Story," which begins tomorrow night. We'll hear David Bianculli's review after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.