Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Raul Malo's Homemade Hybrids

Posted By on 10.06.10 at 07:39 PM

Raul Malo
  • Raul Malo
Since founding the Mavericks in 1989, singer-songwriter Raul Malo has deftly avoided getting pigeonholed. His old band landed 14 songs on the country charts in its 14-year run, but even on those tracks his vocal style—part Roy Orbison balladeer, part Latin crooner (Malo is Cuban-American, raised in Miami)—sets him apart from the typical Nashville singer. And the Mavericks added kitschy dashes of retro flavors (countrypolitan, soul, lounge music, Cuban son, boleros) to the usual country twang.

By the time the band split up their star had fallen, but Malo continued on the path they'd been traveling rather than attempt to find his way back into the mainstream. His solo records also have a heavy retro vibe, and he's such a skilled singer, with such a natural affinity for so many types of music, that even when he sounds a little glib and by-the-numbers he manages to get by.

Yesterday he released his fifth solo album (sixth if you count a Christmas collection from 2007), Sinners & Saints (Fantasy), and it's much like his other post-Mavericks work, except that he produced it and laid down most of the tracks himself at his home studio in Nashville (he hired local talent in Austin to flesh out the arrangements the rest of the way). Most prominent among the guests is organist Augie Meyers (a mainstay of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados), who can't help but give a distinctly Tex-Mex feeling to anything he plays on. That south-of-the-border quality is a natural fit for a guy like Malo, who's regularly incorporated Spanish lyrics, clave patterns, and blaring trumpets into his music. One of the things I enjoy most about Malo's albums is that they don't pay heed to the lines between schmaltz and sincerity or past and present; the songs mash up styles and sentiments because that's how he thinks they sound best.

Below you can hear "Living for Today," one of the numbers with Meyers:

Malo plays in support of the new album on Thursday night at FitzGerald's.

photo: George Gutierrez

Today's playlist:

Various artists, Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91 (Soundway)
Charlemagne Palestine, Alloy (Alga Marghen)
Salif Keita, La Difference (Emarcy)
Omar Souleyman, Jazeera Nights (Sublime Frequencies)
Borah Bergman Trio, Luminescence (Tzadik)

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