A heaven-sent infection.
With that rhyming name, Carlos Guitarlos sounds like a novelty act, but there’s serious swagger and old-school R&B on Hell Can Wait.
It’s the second full-length release from this San Francisco street musician, whose old band, Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs, once inspired a Van Halen song.
Now Guitarlos has earned the admiration of Los Lobos member David Hidalgo, one of several notable contributors to this generous collection. There’s a lot of 12-bar blues here, but Hell Can Wait also dips into swinging Latin styles and vintage rock formulas. No matter the stylistic turn, these 19 songs are always infused with rowdy energy and precise, yet emotionally charged, musicianship.
Perhaps as a nod to his street roots, the album’s ensemble numbers are bookended by a pair of solo songs: “Love Me From the Start” is a raw blues powered by percussive acoustic guitar that reflects the blunt lyrics: “Better get your dress off, if you’re gonna mess with me.”
The closer, “I’ve Been Dead Since You’ve Been Gone” is a more tender and melodic acoustic ballad, though the sweetness is laced with a lot of sadness.
Although Guitarlos is obviously familiar with the blues, there’s more joy than woe on the band numbers. “Got No Time” rumbles along on a raucous New Orleans rhythm, with frisky guitars and horns lifting the singalong chorus about a man too busy living to be tied down to one woman.
Musically, Guitarlos can’t be tied down either. Hell Can Wait never seems to settle into a predicable style, shifting effortlessly from the “Got No Time” ‘s rumba into the 1950s rock shuffle of “Get Back” into the fiery Tex-Mex of “Shake My Blue.”
Hidalgo shares lead vocals on the latter, which crackles with the simmering soul of a classic Los Lobos tune. Actually, you can’t even depend on Los Lobos to come up with a groove this good anymore.
Hidalgo isn’t the only talented guest. Gene Taylor (of the Blasters and the Fabulous Thunderbirds) plays piano, and vocalist Marcy Levy (Shakespear’s Sister and Eric Clapton) provides pretty harmonies on “Save a Dance” and “I Found Someone.”
But it’s not the band that makes this music so infectious. It’s the guy with the funny name.