Los Lobos’ Benchmark 1992 Album Kiko Reigns Supreme on RSD 30th Anniversary Tri-Gatefold 3LP Set That Features Expanded 2LP Version of the Original Album Plus a Bonus LP of Outtakes and Studio Jams

The music on Los Lobos’ Kiko is timeless. When I first heard it upon its initial May 1992 release, I immediately felt the album was an instant classic. In fact, I rank Kiko right up there with early Americana-leaning cinemascopic albums by The Band (1968’s Music From Big Pink through 1971’s Cahoots), the Grateful Dead (their two 1970 LPs, American Beauty a1d Workingman’s Dead) and even some of Neil Young’s early iconic works (1970’s After the Gold Rush, 1972’s Harvest). Kiko is that good.

I’ve been wanting to own Kiko on vinyl for a long time. When it was initially released in 1992, most of the world heard it on CD, and the 1LP edition was only available on a then-hard-to-find European import — one that has gone on to become a fairly pricey collector’s item, in fact, as the 20 available copies on Discogs at the time of this posting currently go for between the equivalent of about $50 to $100. And then there was the 2014 Mobile Fidelity 1LP edition that I missed out on initially — and it too is now also a pricey collector’s piece selling for similar coin.

So, there was a definite need for a respectable Kiko vinyl option for the rest of us. I paid about $63 for my Record Store Day (RSD) 3LP 30th Anniversary edition of Kiko, and you can find similar-priced versions selling on secondary marketplaces like Discogs if you can’t find it in the RSD section at your favorite indie music store — or, you can just go here on the official RSD site to search for where you can find a copy.


Honestly, it seems kind of ridiculous that Kiko, which is such a critically acclaimed and best-selling landmark release by this treasured Mexican-American band from East L.A., was not more widely available on vinyl in the U.S. for all these years — but that was then. This is now. End of rant.

Anyhow, trying to figure out the production DNA of this release is a little challenging, but we can make some investigative headway here. I initially went down a bit of a rabbit hole of speculation as to whether Kiko was made in the analog or digital realm — but it’s actually not that difficult to deduce if you look closely at the album credits, wherein we see “digital editing” tasks assigned to one Dave Collins (who was then working at A&M Studios). Since Kiko was recorded in the early 1990s, it makes sense that the album would have been recorded at least in part digitally. I do suspect Kiko was crafted with a hybrid of digital and analog techniques, resulting in a nice balance of warmth and clarity.


After poking around the interwebs a bit, the notion that Kiko probably wasn’t an AAA type of recording seems fairly well accepted among certain audiophiles. So, let’s put that non-issue aside, and move on to the music itself. Bottom line: Kiko is a great recording, and an incredible production achievement. For further context, I also listened to the 2012 20th anniversary Shout! Factory CD back-to-back with the new RSD 3LP edition — and the vinyl wins, hands down. Why? Again, there are probably many reasons well beyond the scope of this review, but I’ll give you more than a few here right now.


I did note in the new RSD Kikoalbum credits a very specific attribution: “Mastered for vinyl with lacquers cut by Dave McNair, Dave McNair Mastering.” Clearly, someone paid attention to the little details when making the transfer to vinyl media to make sure the underlying recording didn’t come out sounding harsh and brittle on our turntables. While there wasn’t an official press release issued to accompany this specific release (something I confirmed firsthand with Los Lobos’ PR folks), the Record Store Day site offered this tantalizing bit of detail in its description of the release, saying that Kiko was “sequenced over 2 discs for improved fidelity.” As we’ve seen in the past — especially on 2LP expansions of recordings like XTC’s classic 1986 album, Skylarking — giving the music more room per side allows for a wider, less compressed vinyl cut, ultimately delivering better fidelity to the listener. To that, the Kiko album proper works brilliantly as a 2LP listening experience, with each playing side of the set feeling like its own mini-album in its own right — as opposed to the nonstop CD playlist style of sequencing.

The soundstage and overall sense of instrumental detailing feels richer and more lifelike on the Kiko vinyl. There is no question in my mind of the added warming effect of hearing this music through a high-quality cartridge/turntable combo via a tube preamp. Generally, this RSD edition of Kiko feels larger and less compressed-sounding than the CD.


I especially love the more distinct amplifier tones coming through on songs like “Dream in Blue” (Side A, Track 1). The acoustic instruments on “Arizona Skies” (Side C, Track 1) sound positively gorgeous here, while the lead guitars on “Wicked Rain (Side C, Track 4) are absolutely ripping and trippy — kind of like if the 1970s-era David Gilmour suddenly showed up in the studio to play with the band.

I only had one not-quite technical glitch along the way with this RSD special edition of Kiko, as my initial copy was actually missing the bonus third LP! Curious, I asked around social media to some of my vinyl collecting friends, and learned there indeed were others who had this same problem. Since this RSD album had a limited run of 3,500 copies, the store where I bought Kiko didn’t have any other copies in hand, so I could not exchange mine there directly for another copy. However, I reached out to the Warner/Rhino PR team, and was thankfully able to obtain a replacement copy from them so that I could complete this review. (Naturally, we are beyond grateful to them for going above and beyond for AP here.)


The bonus tracks on the 30th Anniversary Expanded 3LP RSD version of Kiko are certainly interesting, most especially for deeper fans of the band. They don’t seem to fully overlap with the bonus tracks that are on the 20th anniversary CD version, however — and this is a good thing! For example, “Whiskey Trail” and “Rio De Tenampa” are listed on the CD as “Studio Demo Versions,” while the new 3LP RSD set IDs those tracks as “Outtakes,” along with specific recording dates offered for each song. I did a little comparison/contrasting of the overlapping tracks, and while they sound similar, I am not yet 100 percent sure if they are, in fact, identical takes. I’ll have to spend some more time exploring them over the holidays — but please feel free to chime in below in the Comments section if you have your own thoughts about them.

The studio outtakes on the first side of LP3, Side E, all generally sound excellent. The second side of LP3, Side F, is a little bit more open-ended and meandering, as the tracks are mostly studio jams. But that, in fact, makes them the coolest stuff you want to hear, because you get to be a fly on the wall with Los Lobos in the studio. Hearing the band exploring new ideas, as well as rocking out other new ideas on a whim and dabbling with tunes like Van Morrison’s “Moondance” along the way, is truly wonderful. It is at times revelatory hearing Los Lobos effectively turn on a dime to go from a hard rocker into an authentic-feeling “Reggae Groove” (Side F, Track 3) that eventually devolves into a jam that sounds like the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (the opening gambit on 1975’s Wish You Were Here). These studio jam recordings sound a little more ambient in nature —and were probably captured with an ambient room mic or two in the studio — but they are no less enjoyable.


I also really appreciate the expanded tri-fold packaging on this new 30th Anniversary 3LP RSD version of Kiko, especially just being able to see all the glorious artwork in full LP size as well as read all the words without needing a magnifying glass. I’ve never been a big fan of the tiny aesthetic of most CD booklets, long having felt the industry made a mistake on many levels when we lost the full LP size format for a period of time there at the outset of the digital disc era.

If I have any other complaints about the RSD edition of Kiko, it’s only that I would’ve liked to have seen it pressed on 180g vinyl for the ages, and it would also have been nice if they’d put all three LPs into plastic-lined audiophile-grade sleeves. That said, my vinyl pressings are well-centered and quiet, so I can’t complain about that aspect of it.


I do recognize all the RSD edition extras cost more money. And seeing how this reissue was produced with the band’s input, I suspect at least a certain amount of the production costs ultimately came directly out of Los Lobos’ own pockets to make this special edition happen. Maybe someday, we’ll get a dreamy, super deluxe 200g 45rpm 2LP UHQR-style edition of Kiko. But, for now, I’m more than thrilled to have this 3LP RSD version of it in my collection. Los Lobos’ Kiko is classic recording that now sounds better than ever on this 30th Anniversary edition RSD 3LP set, and we here at AP collectively feel it’s well worth you seeking it out.

(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for AudiophileReview.com, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.)



3LP (Slash/Warner Records)

LP1 – The Original Album
Side A
1. Dream In Blue
2. Wake Up Dolores
3. Angels With Dirty Faces
4. That Train Don’t Stop Here

Side B
1. Kiko And The Lavender Moon
2. Saint Behind The Glass
3. Reva’s House
4. When The Circus Comes

LP2 – Original Album Continued

Side C
1. Arizona Skies
2. Short Side Of Nothing
3. Two Janes
4. Wicked Rain

Side D
1. Whiskey Trail
2. Just A Man
3. Peace
4. Rio De Tenampa

LP3 – Kiko Session Outtakes

Side E
1.Two Janes (6/4/91 Outtake)
2. Whiskey Trail (6/4/91 Outtake)
3. Short Side Of Nothing (6/5/91 Outtake)
4. Rio De Tenampa (6/6/91 Outtake)

Side F
1. Jamming 01
2. Jamming 02
3. Reggae Groove
4. Blues Riffing


jamesp's picture

For those who wish to know how this release compares with the MoFi version - it is superior. There is better imaging, transparancy and it sounds tonally superior. All in all, it just sounds more natural. This is not only my opinion but the opinion of the owners of ProMusica here in Chicago as we did an A/B comparision on PM's reference system.

That said, the differences between the two versions are not profound. So whether you will hear the differences, if you already own the MoFi version, will depend on the quality of your system.

To answer the source question, as indicated for the MoFi release, the original source is PCM digital files. Also, it appears as if this was initially intended to be a Run Out Groove release based on what is written in the run out groove.

Tom L's picture

as the next Run Out Groove release. Interesting.

jamesp's picture

I believe that's an old listing. It actually isn't clear ROG is releasing new product.