Just another band from east LA? Think again. The Blazers missed the SoCal roots-rock wave by a decade, got swamped by the Latin popsters in the '90s and then sank below all sonar. The Blasters, X and Los Lobos keep collecting critical name-checks; the Blazers keep kicking ass. Over the course of four Rounder albums, the band has never gussied up or watered down -- they haven't even showered off. You hear it in the first "yeah!!!" peeling out from their hellacious, 1995 debut, Short Fuse; in Manuel Gonzales' shredded guitar and vocal chords; in unflagging rhythmic shifts from norteño to shingaling-shimmy to move-it-on-over blues; in Ruben Guaderrama's stinging tres and snarling lines: "If you're thinking I'm not acting like I should/Well it might be too late/'Cause I'll be goin' for good." It's the sound of four working-class boogaloo boys who really just want to jack the Brown-Eyed Handsome Man himself, hock the chrome and get the hell out of the barrio.
So they did. For a sweet year or two following the release of Short Fuse, the Blazers rode their Ritchie-Valens-meets-The-Kinks garaje rock, as well as their Los Lobos connection -- Cesar Rosas produced their first two records -- until Magnet got bored and turned to sexier stuff. The Blazers kept gigging, but their last release, Puro Blazers -- a dazzling, all-Spanish set of cumbias and polkas -- languished for two years before being released and ignored in 2000. Rounder dropped the band but producer/twangster Pete Anderson picked them up: 17 Jewels, the group's first album in three years, is due out on Anderson's Little Dog label at the end of the month. It's not a recipe for breaking through, but it's not like the Blazers care: they have never needed or desired more than frolic and feeling, the shared tierra of rock & roll and cumbia. Cash in your Hives and White Stripes records if you have to -- just grab this rare chance to catch an unassailably great American band.