Los Cenzontles’ 'Regeneration' review

By Sari N. Kent,

Los Cenzontles’ (literally meaning “The Mockingbirds”) 20th album, titled Regeneration, will be released Oct. 9 on the Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center label. Eugene Rodriguez is the founder, musician, educator and motivating force behind this band that blends vintage rock with intricate traditional Mexican beats. Regeneration is the band’s third album working with Los Lobos’ singer/songwriter/musician David Hidalgo, who fuses swamp rock guitars, Mexican folk styles and pulses, and resolute lyrics in both Spanish and English. “We’re talking about our right to be whoever we want to be,” says Rodriguez about the album. On this album, Los Cenzontles’ brings about the shared sentiment that exists between the rhythms of native Mexico, the existing customs of bucolic Mexican musicians, and the wider sphere of American pop.

The group’s members found each other at Los Cenzontles Mexican Art Center, a neighborhood cultural center in working-class San Pablo/Richmond, CA. Los Cenzontles’, which began in 1989, consists of Eugene Rodriguez, who is originally from Jalisco, Mexico on guitar, requinto (high-pitched guitar) and vihuela (five-stringed guitar,) Fabiola Trujillo, who hails from Zacatecas, Mexico and California, with a profound affection for both Mexican ranchera and American country music on vocals, Lucina Rodriguez also on vocals, guitar and jarana (an 8-string fretted instrument,) 18-year-old San Francisco-born Emiliano Rodriguez, who is Mexican-American and French-Vietnamese and has an affinity for roots music, on accordion, guitar and bass and finally, 14-year-old percussionist Mireya Ramirez, originally from Durango, Mexico but was born and raised in inner city San Pablo, CA.

The album’s opening track titled “Adios California” was the perfect choice to start the album with its jovial appeal and danceable beats. With Eugene Rodriguez strumming away on his requinto as Emiliano Rodriguez plays light bass in the background all accompanied by Trujillo and Lucina Rodriguez on sweet sounding vocals, it’s a song fans of Chicano music can really get behind and blast.

“Murmullos” is the album’s second track. It demonstrates the band’s American pop leanings with its infectiously catchy tone. Trujillo and Lucina Rodriguez’s breezy vocals bring a cheeriness to the song along with Eugene Rodriguez on guitar and Emiliano Rodriguez on bass.

The third track titled “Ay Pasajero” has Lucina Rodriguez playing her jarana masterfully along with sharing the vocal duties with Trujillo. The tempo of this song is slightly slower than the previous tracks giving it a softer feel.

“Free To Be Me” is the album’s sixth track and one of the four English songs on the album. Its serious rhythm accomplished by Emiliano Rodriguez’s bass work and Eugene Rodriguez’s insistent vihuela play. Eugene Rodriguez sings with rich enthusiasm such lyrics as, “We make it understood, so we’re just a little puzzled when they say we speak Spanish good…with such a normal name, he tells them that he doesn’t speak Spanish. They think it’s a real shame. I just want to be free to be me.”

The seventh track titled “Un Dia Feliz” has Eugene Rodriguez strumming away on his requinto with Ramirez in the background with percussion giving the song an ethnic feel. Eugene Rodriguez, Lucina Rodriguez and Trujillo harmonize beautifully together making the song one of the album’s vocal gems.

“No Politics” is the album’s eighth song, the second English track and it’s another song that contains lyrics which will connect with listeners on a personal level. It has a memorable opening rhythm with Lucina Rodriguez and Trujillo repeating, “Hey Hey” as Emiliano Rodriguez plays the accordion with eerie precision. Eugene Rodriguez’s powerful lyrics include, “Don’t wanna know about the politics. Don’t wanna know about the politics. I wanna know what’s in your dreams about your home.”

“The Silence” is the album’s ninth track and the third English track. As its title might suggest, its tempo is a tad slower than the other tracks. Listeners could even be inclined to slow dance to this as Eugene Rodriguez along with Lucina Rodriguez and Trujillo haunting harmonize with Emiliano Rodriguez’s bass playing in the background accompanying Eugene Rodriguez’s guitar work.

The 15th track on Regeneration is titled “Only Love Can Break a Heart.” It’s the fourth and final English track on the album and it’s a cover of the Burt Bacharach classic. Emiliano Rodriguez’s bass play, Eugene Rodriguez’s vihuela work along with Lucina Rodriguez and Trujillo’s soulful vocals produce a wonderfully evocative song as they croon lines like, “Only Love Can Break a Heart and only love can mend it again. You know I’m sorry, I’ll prove it.” Their apologetic tone makes this the quintessential song for a one lover to play for another to convey their regret for a mistake.

In the end, Regeneration from Los Cenzontles mixes the Chicano, Mexican and American rock and pop musical genres to produce a truly eclectic sounding bunch of tracks that are sure to appeal to a broad range of music lovers.

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