Personnel: Kid Congo Powers (vocals, guitar); Mark Cisneros (vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion); Kiki Solis (vocals, baritone guitar); Ron Miller (vocals, drums, percussion).
Audio Mixers: Ron Miller ; Steve Squire.
Recording information: The Harveyville Project (2015).
Kid Congo Powers spent his career in the '80s and '90s as a sideman, putting his idiosyncratic talents as a guitarist to the service of others. (It's true Powers co-founded the Gun Club, but Jeffrey Lee Pierce was clearly the man in charge of that group.) This may be why Powers' early efforts with his band the Pink Monkey Birds seemed a bit tentative, fun but lacking the fire of his best work for others. Thankfully, Kid Congo has finally hit his stride as a frontman and songwriter, and 2016's La Arana Es la Vida is an album as commanding as his wild talent deserves. Powers and his bandmates -- guitarist Mark Cisneros, bassist Kiki Solis, and drummer Ron Miller -- sound both casual and tight on these performances, full of fire but with a loose-limbed feel. It feels like anything can happen with this PMB lineup, and their fusion of blues, garage rock, early punk, and Chicano rock is potent. The buzzy stomp of "La Arana," the lean and mean charge of "We Love You," and the swampy carnival sound of "Chicano Studies" all hit the bullseye in different but satisfying ways. La Arana Es la Vida is very much a rock & roll album, but Powers' music has a depth and texture that belie the elemental nature of his songs. While most of the tunes deliver a raucous good time, it's the extended final triptych of "Five Points," "Howards End," and "Nasty Hat" that brings the real surprise. The first two are extended slide guitar workouts that play like a ragged but quietly joyous variation on "Sleepwalk." And the finale wraps up the album with a sneering fusion of echo-laden garage rock and first-album Doors. Kid Congo Powers has always played like he meant it, but with La Arana Es la Vida, he and his band are finally making music as strong as his résumé deserves. ~ Mark Deming