People tend to bandy about a lot of names when discussing Texas trio Los Lonely Boys, among them the Allman Brothers Band, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and ZZ Top. It’s true that their self-titled double-platinum 2003 debut — with its breezy, Southern-rocky sound — was as deft a distillation of the above-named acts as anyone’s yet concocted. Listen closer, though, and it’s clear that Los Lonely Boys fall short of their role models. It’s not that the Boys are untalented, but that their brief, catchy songs are a little too pat — a quick snack as opposed to a three-course meal. Take ”Texican Style,” a tune from LLB’s second studio album, Sacred. It’s great the first time out, but the song’s bloozy bluster loses its allure fairly rapidly, and after a spin or two it begins sounding like a reductio ad absurdum pastiche of the genre.
Of course, genre pastiches are what bar bands do, and not terribly long ago LLB were exactly that, backing their Tex-Mex singer dad. Sacred finds the brothers Garza (guitarist Henry, bassist JoJo, drummer Ringo) expanding their palette by modest increments, adding a horn section to ”My Way” and delving deeper into their Mexican-American roots on ”Oye Mamacita.” The major draw is Henry’s fleet-fingered guitar work. Whether he’s spraying Duane Allman-style lyrical runs over ”Diamonds” or injecting funky Hendrix-like wah-wah into ”My Loneliness,” he has the makings of a world-class guitar hero. If only the band’s the-song-and-nothing-but-the-song methodology gave him more room to stretch out.
Maybe Henry is emulating fellow guitarist Carlos Santana, who of late has reined in his instrumental restlessness in pursuit of hit singles. LLB recorded a track with Santana for his last CD and have been hanging and playing with other bigwigs (the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) over the past couple of years. Considering the company they’ve been keeping, it’s kind of surprising there are only two big(ish) guests here: supporter Willie Nelson (on the country rocker ”Outlaws”) and Doobie Brothers guitarist Pat Simmons (who co-wrote the lilting ”Roses”). Maybe the heavy hitters are waiting to see where these lucky ducks might venture next before committing themselves further.
That’s pretty much what we’re doing too. Who knows? Perhaps by album No. 3, LLB will indulge their passion for Coltrane-inspired extrapolations (remember, the Allmans released two tightly constructed studio albums before unleashing such legendary improvisational flights as the 34-minute ”Mountain Jam”). Despite our reservations, we’re not ready to turn these fellas into whipping boys. Not while it’s possible that one of these hummable ditties could wind up being Los Lonely Boys’ ”Whipping Post.”