Bo White's made strange music in several different bands: He's led the late noise rockers Calabi Yau and bolstered Afrobeat-happy Black Congo NC, supported posi-poppers Yardwork and anchored the vibes-and-jazz-guitar Duo Select. Though all that informs his latest solo record, Same Deal, New Patrones, the résumé hardly does the Charlotte native's ambitious new LP justice. Initially inspired by narcocorrido musician victims like the late Sergio Vega, this thematically unified album finds White shifting time signatures, supplying a David Byrne-like warble and adding jazz-flavored guitar and horn charts to songs that eschew obvious sonic touchstones, just as the empathetic lyrics flesh out what are too often stock characters—no trad corridos or mariachi trumpets here. Even the black-hat killers have hearts.
You'll hear signs of White' previous work, but don't expect it to sound the same: "Habits," for instance, channels Yardwork's careening momentum, though horns replace gang vocals as White reminds that your "bump" has consequences for both sides of the border. On "Sinaloa," a gangster's verses are fraught with nerve-wracked staccato strings; they give way to romantic swells and a chorus that reminds that even "the evilest heart bends quickly toward you."
White's grand vision includes quotidian culture, too. Baritone sax skronk battles guitar feedback on the furiously paced "Fiesta Brava" to embody the violence and beauty of a bullfight, while the highlife-flavored "Ulama Con Marta" uses the Mayan's "oldest game" as a metaphor for domestic bliss. Throughout, White puts a human face to the drug wars, somehow finding grace and beauty amid the carnage.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Loud, live or Latin."