For most bands, an album of Disney songs would be nothing more than a quirky little knock-off. And by all rights, "Los Lobos Goes Disney" (Hollywood Records) should be just that, given the project's origins.
Los Lobos had one album left on their contract and proposed making it a children's record. Fine, the label said, but with one condition: The band had to cover songs from the catalog of Walt Disney, Hollywood Records' parent company.
"It sounded like a goofy idea," says Los Lobos singer/guitarist Louie Perez, calling from his home in Los Angeles. "But then we couldn't believe all this music. We've lived and grown up with it like everyone else. And when you see it as one collected body of work, man, it's some incredible stuff. So we whittled it down to songs that meant something to us. I'm kind of proud of it."
Instead of going through the motions, Los Lobos take ample liberties with interpreting the Disney canon. The opening "Heigh-Ho" kicks off the album at a dead sprint, accelerating the dwarves' marching song from "Snow White" into an overdrive rave-up. "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" gets the opposite treatment, slowed down to a summery amble. And the closing "When You Wish Upon a Star/It's a Small World" recasts its component songs as an instrumental mash-up of '50s rock and Mexican polka, with a pinch of "Twist and Shout" thrown in at the end.
Plenty of these Disney songs should be in the set list for Los Lobos' performance in Durham with guitarist Leo Kottke on Thursday. The band is in the midst of recording a new album, but don't go to the show expecting to hear any of the in-progress songs.
"If you've not rehearsed songs for live performance, they've not yet manifested themselves in that form," Perez says. "So you don't really know 'em, even if they've been recorded. This next record is in the middle state of completion - or noncompletion, it can be hard to tell - so the songs aren't ready to go. We'll pull out some of the Disney tunes, do some unplugged things. Playing with Leo, it won't be the huge rock show."
As for that new album, Perez says he's been working overtime writing songs. It's a process that goes into the wee small hours of each morning, and it's almost always a struggle.
"Somebody told me, 'I hope the muses show up,' and I'm just waiting for them," he says. "I know their car pretty well, and I'm not seeing it pull up. It's a 2009 Camry, so it probably blasted right by because it couldn't stop. I've been telling this joke: A friend of mine drove from New York to L.A. in record time in a Toyota. The only problem is he only meant to go as far as Buffalo."
By way of throwing in a rim shot, he pauses to cackle.
"Yeah," Perez says, "that's part of this stand-up thing I've been working on. Something to fall back on someday."