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Los Lonely Boys AUSTIN, Texas – Lots of musicians compare their careers to roller-coaster rides, but Los Lonely Boys have had so many close-your-eyes-and-hang-on moments in the 14 years since they recorded their self-titled debut, they should buy an amusement park.
The story of how the Garza brothers – vocalist/guitarist Henry, bassist/vocalist and drummer/ vocalist Ringo – rode their bluesy “Texican rock” sound from San Angelo, Texas, to worldwide fame is one of rock’s great Cinderella tales. But the story of how they’ve persevered in the face of subsequent challenges is just as compelling. In 2013, they canceled 43 shows and paused work on their last album, Revelation, after Henry was seriously hurt when he fell from a stage in Los Angeles. A couple of years previously, vocal cord nodules had forced Jojo to stop singing for months. And in 2015, their mother passed away.
Their strong brotherly bond helped them through those rough spots – just as it did when they made the hard decision to step out from under their father’s musical leadership and form their own band after performing with him since childhood. The desire to follow their musical muse still drives them today, according to Jojo.
“There is no rest for those who are chosen to be musicians,” he says. “Ideas for songs are constant. We are being charged with what will be spread through our songs. We want to make music that brings people together.
“We’re all about having a good time, but we also make an effort to write about subjects that matter. Life, death, love, hate, compassion, transgression, light, darkness, truth; they’re what we’ve always been about. We’re not interested in songs about how you look and what kind of car you drive and how much money you have. We want to create music that’s about the love and energy and spirit we all carry. It comes from a bigger source than ourselves.”
That’s why they titled their 2014 release Revelation. Its songs were meant to serve as mirrors of sorts, reflecting aspects of our lives in ways that reveal new insights. “As musicians and artists,” Jojo says, “we’re here to connect with people.”
Released on their LonelyTone imprint under Austin-based indie label Playing in Traffic Records, Revelation maintains the infectiously melodic mix of bluesy rock ’n’ roll and rootsy soul that’s long endeared Los Lonely Boys to their fiercely loyal fans. Flawless harmonies and soaring solos remain trademarks, but in these songs, they explore rhythms from conjunto (“Blame It On Love”) to reggae (“Give A Little More”), along with rustic acoustic textures (“It’s Just My Heart Talkin’”) and baroque pop shadings (“There’s Always Tomorrow”).
“We’re always trying to broaden our horizons musically,” Jojo says. “We’re always looking for new ways to communicate, so we experimented with different sounds and production approaches.”
They also turned to co-writers, including Americana icon Radney Foster, pop tunesmiths Matthew Gerrard and David Quiñones, Black-Eyed Peas collaborators George Pajon Jr. and Keith Harris, and Ozomatli’s Raul Pacheco.
Their scare with Henry caused all three brothers to re-examine not only how they make music, but how they conduct their lives. “The whole experience was a wake-up call,” Jojo admits. “It reminded us of what’s really important.”
Once again, they affirmed that’s family. And music. For this trio, the two are inseparable. In fact, the sons of Enrique “Ringo” Garza Sr. are a second-generation sibling band; their dad and his brothers played conjunto as the Falcones before the elder Garza formed a band with his sons.
They were still teens when he moved them to Nashville, hoping to hit career paydirt. But their big break came after they returned to Texas and began playing Austin clubs in the early 2000s. One day, Willie Nelson’s nephew heard some demos. Next thing they knew, Willie showed up at a gig. Then he showcased them at Farm Aid, fronted recording time at his famed Pedernales Studio and even guested on their album.
Released in 2003 on startup label Or Records, Los Lonely Boys got picked up by Epic and rereleased. Propelled by its No. 1 single, “Heaven,” it wound up selling over 2 million copies, spending 76 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 album chart and earning them a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.
Their dream-come-true rise was chronicled in the documentary, Los Lonely Boys: Cottonfields and Crossroads, directed by fellow San Angelo native Hector Galán. Another dream came true when Carlos Santana invited them to guest on his 2005 album, All That I Am. They also released Live at the Fillmore that year. Their father and Nelson joined them on 2006’s Sacred, and in 2007, their cover of John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” became the second single from the album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur.
Forgiven and Christmas Spirit arrived in 2008, followed in 2009 by 1969, an all-covers EP homage to rock’s most influential era and their first LonelyTone release through Playing in Traffic Records. Then they traveled to Iraq to entertain American troops and embarked on an acoustic tour, documented with the 2010 album, Keep on Giving: Acoustic Live. Rockpango came in 2011. They’re now creating follow-ups to Revelation’s musical outpouring.
If anything, Jojo says, life’s upheavals have tightened their bond even more. “We stick together,” he adds, “and we’re trying to pass on that feeling of brotherhood, of familia, in all the music we make.”
LISA MORALES Luna Negra and the Daughter of the Sun Like many singer-songwriters, Lisa Morales started penning tunes as a way to express her emotions. But Morales was only 7 when she began, prompted by the trauma of her parents’ dissolving marriage. Decades later, she’s still addressing the complex landscape of relationships through music and verse, though her perspective now is that of a woman who’s weathered many more storms — and witnessed their sometimes-beautiful aftermaths, too. With Luna Negra and the Daughter of the Sun, Morales sought to reach even more deeply into her soul. Drawing from a creative palette informed by the rhythms, colors and flavors of the Southwest — from the painted-desert skies of her native Tucson, Arizona, where she and cousin Linda Ronstadt grew up, to the sea-salted air of Houston, where she moved at 18, and the history-filled city of San Antonio, where she now lives — she’s crafted an album of maturity, sensitivity and strength. On each of its 11 tracks — all but one of which were written or co-written by Morales — she confirms that she is a woman in touch with her emotions and inner power. But reaching that place was not an easy journey; first, she had to work through several painful losses. On this album, she navigates the subject from different perspectives. In fact, listeners might detect a loose thread weaving through these songs: They often seem to address exits. But her lyrics, sung in English, Spanish and Spanglish, also convey the promise of new beginnings. Morales somehow tumbles together both hurt and hope in “Avalanche,” a standout track on which she duets with the late Jimmy LaFave. It’s a gorgeous ballad, made even more poignant by the ache in LaFave’s voice as it circles around hers like a silk ribbon, trailed by album producer Michael Ramos’ lonely trumpet. “At first, I had wanted someone to sing background,” Morales explains. “Then I thought if Jimmy's going to be on it, let's make it a duet, because his voice just melts you.” LaFave recorded his part not long before he passed away from cancer — a difficult loss for her not only because the two friends never achieved their goal of writing together, but also because he introduced her to the man who is now her romantic partner. Before she could open herself to love again, Morales had to recover from the end of her 20-year marriage, an experience she addresses in “Veinte Minutos.” There were other relationships, too; “Todo y Nada,” one of several tracks co-written with Juan Cabrera, explains why one in particular just couldn’t work— because “agua y miel” (honey and water) don’t mix. As for what does work, Morales makes it clear in the Latin-flavored “I Want the Roses” that a little romancing goes a long way. You want to make my mascara bleed, she sings. I want the roses so I’ve got to leave. Guitarron, Paraguayan harp and Ramos’ lacey accordion enhance Morales’ acoustic guitar strumming on that track. Ramos (the BoDeans, Patty Griffin, John Mellencamp) plays accordion and keyboards throughout the album, and on “Avalanche,” handles all the instruments. He also recruited A-list contributors including guitarists Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan), Adrian Quesada (Grupo Fantasma, Prince) and David Garza (Juliana Hatfield, Fiona Apple). Los Lonely Boys bassist Jojo Garza and Los Lobos drummer Cougar Estrada round out the core band. Both Garzas also provide backing vocals. On “Strong Enough,” folk icon Eliza Gilkyson helps lift up the inspiring anthem of female empowerment with her background vocals. Sharing vocals with another female is familiar territory to Morales, who recorded six albums as one-half of the duo Sisters Morales before releasing her solo debut, Beautiful Mistake, in 2012. Morales was 10 when she and older sister Roberta formed their first band, an all-girl outfit. By then, they were veteran entertainers, often performing for the poets and playwrights visiting their mother, a professor who spoke 11 languages and owned a first-edition bookstore. One particularly memorable guest was fantasy author Evangeline Walton, who wrote The Song of Rhiannon. “She didn’t know that Stevie Nicks had written ‘Rhiannon’ for her — her book,” Morales recounts. “So we told her about it and then played it for her.” Morales’ music career was practically preordained at birth; in addition to her cousin, her genetic influences included a grandmother trained as a concert pianist, an aunt who played first-chair violin with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and a father with pipes that rivaled Sinatra’s. She first performed with a Mariachi band at 4; by 5, she was studying piano. At 13, she played a University of Arizona club gig/radio broadcast. That was a year before she lost her father, whom she believes chose law over music to be a better provider. That decision may have led to his death, which occurred days after he was found unconscious in a swimming pool with a lump on his head. Despite three autopsies, no explanation was found. Years later, she learned of one possible cause: his law office's representation of Morales' neighbor, Mafia boss Joe Bonanno. The clouds of depression and guilt — she had dreamed of her father’s demise three days before it happened — clung for years; Morales says it took her mother’s death in 2009 to make her realize she didn’t want to live under them anymore and seek ways to lift the darkness. On the album’s sole cover, “Pena, Penita, Pena” Morales taps into the pain of losing her mother, whose poetic influence permeates every song — especially those Morales sings in her mother’s native language. This one, an affecting ballad popularized in the 1950s (better known as “¡Ay, pena, penita, pena!”), features lead guitar by David Pulkingham (Patty Griffin, Alejandro Escovedo) with Morales on classical guitar and Michael “Cornbread” Traylor (Billy Joe Shaver, Javier Escovedo) on bass. Though Morales, who discovered the song while her mother was dying of cancer, imbues it with sadness, she makes it sound like a gentle sunset serenade — and reports proudly that when she played it for her cousin, Ronstadt responded, “I would have definitely recorded that!” Contrasts between darkness and light — or pain and happiness — figure into the title tune as well. In that song, Morales, who says she often sees music as paintings and colors, turns the forces of nature into vivid metaphors for opposing forces dueling within the soul of a dark-haired girl. “When I was a little girl, my mother took me to the ocean. Quoting Garcia Lorca, she said, ‘This is a gypsy’s skirt, and the waves are her ruffles,’” Morales recalls. “That’s the kind of imagery I think of in Spanish. In the song, a bird looks down at this girl and says to her, ‘The wind whispered to me that you’re worried; you have a predicament about love. Don’t use the pain as a crutch to keep you from living and loving.’” And in the bi-lingual closer, “Out of the Rains,” Morales sings, with understated elegance, of finally finding fulfillment. But long before she reaches the last note, Morales leaves no doubt that the emotion and power of her music would come through in any language.