- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

Marshall Crenshaw released his debut album in 1982, yet the music contained therein — a blend of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and 1960s pop — evoked an earlier era.

A Michigan native who moved to New York City in 1978, Mr. Crenshaw also injected a sense of street-smart swagger into his songs. Such a combination helped fuel “Marshall Crenshaw,” one of the strongest pop albums of the 1980s.

Mr. Crenshaw enjoyed a brief period in the spotlight, even portraying his idol Buddy Holly in the movie “La Bamba.” Future albums failed to chart, however, and he never rose to the same commercial heights or was so avidly adored.

Nearly three decades later, Mr. Crenshaw is still making music, although the pop hooks of albums past share equal space with mature, topical lyrics. Moreover, the songwriter has learned to work at home, a lesson that suits his new lifestyle.

“There was a time when I used to check into a hotel whenever I needed to write,” he explains. “I’d go to a neutral location to find an isolated state. I don’t do that anymore. I can do what is needed at home, which is where I like to be. Earlier in life, I was reckless and liked to be on the move as much as possible, but that was a long time ago.”

What hasn’t changed is Mr. Crenshaw’s ability to channel the influence of bygone bands. During the 1990s, he helped pen the Gin Blossoms’ highest-charting hit, “Til I Hear It From You,” by combining the ringing guitars of the Byrds with the sweet melodies of oldies radio.

One decade later, he wrote the cheeky theme song to “Walk Hard,” a satirical film that parodied the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.” Some of his best work, however, still can be found on his own albums. “Jaggedland,” released in June, was crafted with the help of several legendary sidemen, all of whom contributed to the album’s rich, compelling track list.

“I wound up with a dream team,” he says. “The people I worked with on this record are some of the best musicians on earth.” Included in that team were MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, famed drummer Jim Keltner and “Pet Sounds” vibraphonist Emil Richards.

After recording several albums on his own, Mr. Crenshaw was relieved to work with such a top-notch group. “A lot of records nowadays are made by people in solitary situations,” he explains, “but I get tired of the whole ‘solitary genius’ thing. There’s an energy that happens when you get other people in the room. My mind focuses better, my adrenalin goes up, and my instincts are sharper.”

The audiophile in Mr. Crenshaw also enjoys the benefits of recording inside a genuine studio. “Each studio is really unique,” he says. “With a lot of my favorite records, you can actually hear the room that the musicians were in. You get a sense of the dimensions. It’s an extra thing that stirs your imagination, and I like to try and get that with my own work.”

Mr. Crenshaw will visit a different sort of room Thursday, when he plays a solo show at Jammin’ Java. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $20.

Band of Brothers

American radio hasn’t always been kind to Tejano, a musical blend of Texan and Mexican traditions. Yes, Selena brought the genre to a mass public during the 1990s, when her fusion of Latin pop and Tex Mex textures found a home on both sides of the Mexican border. Such success is rare, however, and few of Tejano’s biggest acts ever become household names in America.

A rare exception is Los Lonely Boys, from San Angelo, Texas. The sibling trio became a chart-topping group in 2004, when “Heaven” introduced the group’s bluesy, soulful songwriting. Although rooted in the Tejano tradition, the brothers also embraced the raw sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, and their debut album earned comparisons to Los Lobos and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The band’s newest recording, “1969,” strengthens such rock ‘n’ roll connections by paying tribute to one of rock’s biggest years. Made up of classic cover songs, including Carlos Santana’s “Evil Ways” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” the EP also features the work of producer-mixer Andy Johns, who added some vintage credibility to the project.

“The guy definitely has an eye for this kind of music,” bassist Jojo Garza says of Mr. Johns, who previously worked on landmark albums by the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Los Lonely Boys will play tracks from “1969” on the band’s current tour, but there’s a significant catch: No electric guitars will be used.

“We write all our songs on acoustic guitar,” Mr. Garza explains, “so this tour is just about getting back to where we started. The hardest thing will be capturing that sense of what Los Lonely Boys can do live, but capturing it in a different way. This will be like sitting around a campfire.”

The Acoustic Brotherhood Tour, which also features performances by Alejandro Escovedo and Hacienda, will visit the Birchmere on Monday and Tuesday. Tickets for the performances are $45, and both evenings start at 7:30.

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