Acoustic Sounds

Los Lobos




Label: Slash/Warner Records

Produced By: Mitchell Froom And Los Lobos

Engineered By: Tchad Blake

Mixed By: Tchad Blake

Mastered By: Dave McNair (for this release)

Lacquers Cut By: Nick Townsend, Townsend Mastering

By: Michael Fremer

January 25th, 2024





Los Lobos's "Kiko" Gets Its Best Vinyl Reissue

RSD "Black Friday" release mastered by our Dave McNair

Is it a "conflict of interest" to review a record mastered by a Tracking Angle writer? I could care less. This is mastering engineer Dave McNair's second pass on Kiko, Los Lobos' best selling (other than the La Bamba soundtrack) and arguable best album. Though recorded analog and mixed to 2 inch 30IPS tape, It was originally released domestically on CD only in 1992 during vinyl's sunset fade. It got a digitally sourced European release that squeezed the whole thing on to two sides. It was worth getting "just because", and it was sure convenient to have it when I interviewed the band back in 2004 for The Tracking Angle print magazine, so I could get it autographed.

You may have noticed the source for this release was a digital file produced from the 30 IPS 1/2" master tape and wonder why Dave McNair couldn't just use the tape. He was actually offered it but even had he gotten it he couldn't have duplicated the original CD's cross fades (produced back then by Dave Collins who put the mixes into a digital work station and produced a 48k/16 bit DAT master).

Dave McNair told me he could have done his mastering work (EQ, compression etc.) in the digital domain but preferred the sound of his analog EQ and compressor so did it that way. Here's his flow chart comparing the original CD production and his:

Kiko production flow chart Following the Mobile Fidelity DSD disclosure and lawsuit, Mobile Fidelity posted to its website the sources for all releases. Re: Kiko, the site discloses this: "Digital clone of original PCM digital master to analog console to lathe." No analog at all other than console to lathe. But whatever: at a show last year Dave had a lacquer he'd cut from his mastered file and it sonically obliterated the Mo-Fi LP sound particularly the equalization. Yes, trolls, I did give the Mo-Fi a great review because it was great compared to the U.K. LP I had. But when McNair compared his lacquer to the Mo-Fi it was no contest—and not because one was a lacquer. Dave's EQ choices were far superior: more open, more rockin' less "audiophile".

McNair convinced Rhino/Warner Music to spread the record onto two LPs of this three LP set, which was a great idea and glad they went along. The third record contains a side of outtakes and a side of jams.

Dave couldn't cut the actual lacquers for this release because in technical terms, as he put it his lathe "pooped out" so his friend Nick Townsend did the work. The results are outstanding and the Record Industry pressing is too!

Dave was not shy about getting Louis Perez's kick drum to tastefully explode or the Conrad R. Lozano's bass to seriously plumb the depths. Time only reveals the record to be a flat-out genre-bending masterpiece that also makes tasteful use of all available studio tricks. I think the band will love McNair's take. It's full, rich, deep and mysterious like much of the music—especially the title track "Kiko and The Lavender Moon"—yet it retains full transparency and slam and McNair lets all of the vocals and vocal harmonies shine. "Saint Behind the Glass" should give you the shivers. McNair brings out all the power of Steve Berlin's locomotive sax.

The writing began in 1991 shortly after David Hidalgo and Louis Perez had returned from Woodstock where they went to work with The Band on some new tunes, giving them a few and returning home with others. Hidalgo summed up the songwriting thusly for an in-house Slash Records interview: "...every once in a while God will send you a good batch of songs. I think that was the case here." Amen! And PTL! In retrospect connections to The Band's music run throughout but especially on "Reva's House".

This is a limited to 3500 copies RSD edition that you can still find. So highly recommended! Below is a slightly revised version of the original review I wrote for The Tracking Angle magazine that appeared in Volume 3, #1, issue 11, Spring 1997. The interview I conducted with the band that originally appeared in The Tracking Angle will appear here ASAP.

Here's Cesar Rojas enjoying our first big full color perfect bound edition with Hendrix at the Monterrey Pop Festival on the cover:

Nothing Los Lobos recorded previous to 1992’s Kiko could have prepared anyone for this piece of sustained, surreal brilliance. Dreamlike sonic vistas, ominous lyrical horizons, mysterious musical crevices, and spring-like rhythmic compressions and extensions combine to create a dayglo, funhouse-like environment filled with familiar, but oddly drawn musical elements.

The chill inducing title tune, with its creepy, slinky rhythm, its haunted saxophones, its "lavender moon" and "big black cat," is a self-contained macabre vision more powerful than any MTV video. And yet, beneath the daring musical invention is a familiar bedrock of musical Americana. There's swing jazz, blues, rock and all of the other roots- including the group's ethnic ones, but they've been strangely, and wonderfully twisted.

The group takes on very serious subject matter but manages to do so without preaching.

If you hear The Band poking around the musical corner it is not a coincidence. Hidalgo and Perez traveled to Woodstock to help the group write songs before starting on this album. "Two Janes" sounds oddly familiar- like The Band's cover of "The Long Black Veil." If any Band album sows the seeds of Kiko it's Stagefright, which contains the mystical "Daniel and The Sacred Harp"—one of the group's more magical songs. But the influences range far and wide—intentional or otherwise, which is part of the album's fascination. Listen to "Just A Man" and you'll hear the Robin Trower edition of Procol Harum.

The Hidalgo/Perez team comes up with its most affecting, tender yet tough batch of tuneful songs like "Short Side of Nothing," and Cesar Rosas turns up the heat with the gritty "That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore," and the hard scrapple "Wicked Rain."

The playing is intense, the rhythms relentless, the musical choices breathtakingly fresh, and Froom and Blake brush with iridescent paint on a black velvet canvas achieving a perfect subject/object match. While not much sounds "real" in the natural sense, the sonic picture is smooth and clean, with outstanding bass extension and definition. Overall clarity is superb, the mix is masterful, and the overall spectrum balance is ideal, though the top end sounds tucked and rolled as intended. A masterpiece, period.

When first issued during the 1990’s vinyl drought, a UK release sourced from who knows what and pressed in Holland didn’t sound as good as the original CD mastered by Dave Collins.

Mobile Fidelity’s new 180g mastering (also available on SACD) is far superior to that original CD in every way: it’s more spacious, more full bodied on bottom and extended on top. The recording is hardly a “band playing live in a room” and features a lot of co-producer Mitch Froom’s tape loop wizardry and studio tricks in service of the concept but it’s still a very good sounding, dynamic studio record. If you want to hear the band’s best sounding record, and one that’s also worthwhile musically, check out The Neighborhood (Slash/Warner Brothers 26131-1 LP) featuring John Hiatt and Levon Helm. Hopefully Mobile Fidelity will get around to reissuing that one as well.

If you’ve somehow not yet gotten into Los Lobos, this is the one with which to start the musical conversation, especially since for all intents and purposes it has never before been available on vinyl other than on the aforementioned not good sounding limited edition.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: R1-725671

Pressing Plant: Record Industry


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 140 grams

Size: 12"

Source: 96/24 file from 2" 30IPS master tape (for original album)

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2024-01-25 09:00:20 PM

    Dave McNair wrote:

    Thank you for the kind words, Michael. I want to emphasize what a great job Nick Townsend did on the cut. It broke my heart that a perfect storm of tech and family health issues prevented me from cutting the lacquers, but I knew who to call!

  • 2024-01-25 11:57:56 PM

    bwb wrote:

    If you have a system capable of doing it justice, The BluRay of them playing the album live is also a masterpiece. You have the choice of playing the concert straight through or a version where they intersperse interviews with the various members talking about writing and recording it.

  • 2024-01-26 07:23:48 AM

    Nels Ferre wrote:

    I’ve got a copy ordered. If Michael says it’s well done, you can take it to the bank.

    I was lucky enough to see them a few years back at Disney World of all places. What a fantastic band.

    • 2024-01-31 06:42:47 PM

      Jack McCready wrote:

      I did the same thing, Nels. I compared this version to the MoFi LP. Mr. Fremer explained the sonic differences perfectly. All I would add is that this version made me fully appreciate Kiko. It’s really fun and the clarity, detail and dynamics brought that into focus. Many thanks to Michael and Dave. We’ll done!

  • 2024-01-26 09:27:02 AM

    Lemon Curry wrote:

    Thank you, Michael, for all the technical detail. Steps are steps, and the less steps the better. I am a huge fan of this album, and until this pressing came along, I depended on the CD as my source.

    Artistically, this is a transistion album for Los Lobos. All the previous elements, the synthesis of tex/mex, of classic American rock and roll, British Invasion and folk, remain intact. But here, the experimentation into Hendrix-like psychedelic guitar tones and arrangements take their initial steps. Going forward, the band would sound very different. This was when the band got VERY interesting. It actually was a review I encountered elsewhere that spurred my purchase. I was aware of the release, but feared (yet another) substandard RSD release product. How wrong I was! Your review fills in the blanks of WHY it sounds so good with far more punch. This vinyl ROCKS. Great, great work!! The CD goes into retirement.

    Now.. can we rally to do similar treatment to "The Neighborhood"? For me, I always gave this album the nod as my Los Lobos fave. If Kiko was the transition album, Neighborhood was the glorious culmination of all the band's experiences to that point. There are no bad tracks here, and most are excellent. Is there any maximum volume for Georgia Slop? I think not. But I digress...

    High fives all around. If I could, I'd jump out of a Buffalo Bills luxury box and yawp shirtless with a brewski to show my love! Thanks, Dave! Thanks, Michael, for the technical excavation.

  • 2024-01-26 10:47:37 AM

    Neil K wrote:

    This is one to savour. Purchased this just after New Year’s when I was browsing the racks in my favourite record shop. Though I’ve enjoyed it on CD since its first release, Dave McNair’s name on the label sealed the deal for me.

  • 2024-01-26 11:49:15 AM

    Ronan O’Gorman wrote:

    Aloha Michael, thanks for a great review. I just purchased this and it is on the way to Kauai. This type of review with all of the technical details and recommendations is simply one more reason I open the TA every day!

  • 2024-01-28 09:35:09 AM

    JEB-42 wrote:

    Really looking forward to being able to pick this one up!

  • 2024-01-29 09:57:55 AM

    Jon Burrows wrote:

    I hate to be this guy but I'm an English teacher and this is one of my pet peeves...the expression is "I couldn't care less" (second sentence). If you could care less, then you would.

  • 2024-01-30 08:28:51 AM

    WyoDan wrote:

    I recall years ago reading an interview with producer Mitchell Froom that the analog tracks were mixed and edited direct to digital, so the master would always be born digital. This info about the analog mixes being used to assemble the final album master is great news. The original CD is glorious in sound and music, and is one my my favorite albums ever. I also have the MoFi vinyl and happily bought the RSD reissue on RSD day. The remaster has weight, punch and warmth, but the original has some clarity and lightness that I still love. I need to live with the reissue a bit longer before I decide on a favorite, but it’s most certainly a worthy addition to the Los Lobos catalog!