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DEL FUEGOS (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Longest Day (Slash) 1984
Boston, Mass. (Slash/Warner Bros.) 1985
Stand Up (Slash/Warner Bros.) 1987
Smoking in the Fields (RCA) 1989

The Longest Day is a solid album bursting with high-energy beat'n'billy-inflected guitar rock. The songs are memorable without pandering; the playing is simple but never simpleminded. From the quivering "Nervous and Shakey" (which opens the LP) to the ominous hipshake "Call My Name" (which ends it), this is a full, therapeutic dose of mature, unaffected rock'n'roll recalled from the '50s and '60s built strictly in and for the '80s.

Besides atrocious art direction, the Boston band's second LP is a hair more selfconscious than its first. In view of the momentary popularity of "working class" rock, Boston, Mass. sounds like it was designed to please a wide audience, although it actually recalls the old Animals more than anything else. On the other hand, the Del Fuegos can't be accused of making any radical readjustment.

The stupid fold-out back cover gimmick of Stand Up should serve as a warning: this messy indulgence (with guest appearances by Tom Petty, James Burton and others) hasn't got any worthwhile songs or intrinsic personality. Dan Zanes' voice is largely shot; the spunky band of music-crazy street kids has turned into a grizzled bunch of oldtimers who run through this tired assortment of horned-out grit-rockers like a rejected beer commercial. Following the album, drummer Woody Giessmann (ex-Embarrassment) became an ex-Del Fuego.

It isn't the illusion of reclaimed youth that makes Smoking in the Fields such a welcome improvement over Stand Up, it's the discovery that maturity isn't such a bad thing. Secret weapon harp demon Magic Dick (ex-J. Geils Band) sends out waves of soulful moaning on some of the songs as horns and tasteful strings gussy up others; the lively variety show of smoking R&B, Stonesy guitar rock, rugged pop and whiskey-scarred soul (shades of Mink DeVille) scores on all four fronts. The record gets on such a roll that even a tender love song Zanes croons (with guest harmony by Rick Danko) over acoustic guitar, cello and mandolin backup turns up in the middle of Side B without any loss in momentum. Producer Dave Thoerner deserves plenty of credit for fitting the Fuegos' music into appropriate arrangements (that couldn't simply be worked out onstage) and still coming up with a full-bodied album that sounds completely natural.

[Ira Robbins]