- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, and everyone at the Black Cat is Latino whenever El Vez, the Mexican-American Elvis, plays there. Leave your irony at the door tomorrow and you can sing along to "Viva La Raza" and "Say It Loud! I'm Brown and I'm Proud!" even if you're sort of pale.
Robert Lopez, who's donned the sequined jumpsuit since 1988, also draws on glam rock and punk in his cross-pop-cultural, costume-changing, consciousness-raising shows. He's backed by the tight Memphis Mariachis and the tighter-dressed Lovely Elvettes, Priscillita and Lisa Maria.
His just-released album "Boxing With God," on the Sympathy For The Record Industry, label mixes personal faith struggles with the usual lessons in Chicano culture and Mexican history. Tomorrow's gospel show is billed as "Oscar de la Hoya meets Kid Galahad."
"It's an old rock and roll standard," Mr. Lopez explains via e-mail from L.A. "Bob Dylan, Al Green … Madonna, etc., every artist touches these points if they hang around long enough. The only Grammys he [Elvis] received were for his gospel records."
On the boxing metaphor: "Your arms too short to box with God. He wins, but you still need to do the boxing dance around it … questioning it can make it stronger sometimes."
A reworked "Oh Happy Day" describes "When Jesus walked, Oh when he walked into the USA … To earn a wage." Not Jesus Christ, just a man named hey-Zeus. "Moody Blue" becomes "Sor Juana de La Cruz," about the 17th-century Mexican nun and feminist intellectual.
Much of the album is Catholic/Christian (the hymns "Lily of the Valley" and "Ave Maria"). The exception is "Can You Kali?", a swing ode to the Hindu goddess in which the Elvettes make like the Andrews Sisters. Mr. Lopez believes "the CD reads more Judeo than I intended it to be but that's what happens with your [Catholic] upbringing." (Mr. Lopez even played in the old SoCal punk band Catholic Discipline.)
There's a logical cover of the Rolling Stones' "Just Want to See His Face," while the thoughtful, doubt-ridden lyrics of "If He Ever Comes Now" have brief musical nods to Paul Simon and David Bowie, among others. The safe-sex ode "Rubbernecking" opens with a Barry White-like voice. ("Oh, I can't tell you [who]. Guest speaker.")
"(Living) La Vida Loca" fuses glam rock with Link Wray riffs, finally giving the decadent lyrics the outlet they deserve. But the real stunner is the Iggy-Pop-sees-the-light "Lust for Christ," already a live staple.
"Christ" keeps the thunder of "Lust for Life," then adds stirring "Alleluia" Elvette chants, and lyrics like "Jesus is just a modern guy/With Christ you haven't got to fear no more!" delivered with street-preacher ferocity.
Just to underscore the happy theme, the closing riff is lifted from the Beatles' "I Feel Fine." ("Fear [of God] shouldn't be the driving force, love should," says Mr. Lopez of the song.)
The themes are serious, but expect his concert to be as goofy (and as crowded) as ever. Ditto the new Christmas show, coming to D.C. later this year.
So what would the King think of Mr. Lopez's "hardest migrant-working man in show business"?
"I would think he would love it. He had a good sense of humor and of justice."

As befits their name, Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub play music evoking the 1930s rural South. Wednesday's Millennium Stage concert is a homecoming for Mr. Burch, who was born in D.C. and lived on Arthur Godfrey's old Northern Virginia farm in Loudoun County.
Mr. Burch's latest album, "Last of My Kind," on Merge Records, is inspired by his Nashville neighbor Tony Earley's book "Jim the Boy." It's best described as a country opera, with "Jimmy" of course being the ideal title. But think Woody Guthrie sparseness in lieu of Pete Townsend's "Tommy" bombast.
"Up on the Mountain" is where Jim's father is from, but he's "gonna go down, gonna make my mark." (Yes, visions of "The Waltons" will dance in your head throughout the album.) It's a testament to Mr. Burch's lyrics that a character's subtleties become obvious even to a listener who knows nothing of the book.
We find that "Mama Shoo'd the Blackbirds" in a fit of depression "cause they sing too sweet." Bob Dylan-style vocals highlight the darkly funny "Harvey Hantsell's Farm." "Country Boys in a City Alley" meshes country-blues rhythms with drums that sound like a trashcan lid.
The plaintive epic "Polio" finds a friend with a "lazy leg" quarantined on the mountain. "How long has it been/Tell me something new to know," he pleads to Jim.
The powerful title track sums up Jim's fear that book-learning has made him weak and betrayed his ancestors' sacrifices. Its title, and the line "It seems the keenest pioneers disappear at the worst time," seem also to sum up Mr. Burch's view on his place in country music.

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