My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Raul Malo

Classic Rewind: Raul Malo – ‘For The Good Times’

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Classic Rewind: Raul Malo – ‘Tennessee Waltz’

Album Review: The Mavericks — ‘Hey! Merry Christmas!’

What I love about The Mavericks is you always know what to expect from their music. You’re always going to get something radically different than you could even imagine, which has been even more true with their most recent albums. Hey! Merry Christmas! is no exception, and only proves, once again, that Raul Malo can sing anything and everything, regardless of style.

The album opens with a joyous ode to the season, “Christmas Time (Is Coming ‘Round Again),” with follows in the company of “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” and “Happy Holidays.” The listener is transported to another place and time, in classic Mavericks’ style.

“Santa Does” and “I Have Wanted You for Christmas” are both excellent in their own ways, whether celebrating the omnipresent one in the red suit or tributing a love that has endured through the generations. The album’s first ballad, the beautifully sparse “Christmas For Me (Is You)” is a revelation, with Malo committing to record a spellbinding R&B and jazz style vocal you have to hear to believe.

The R&B and jazz influence continues on “Santa Wants To Take You for a Ride,” a sensual and slinky double entendre that works, despite objectification. The mournful “Christmas Without You” is in more of a traditional Christmas style and finds Malo engulfed in Christmas cheer he can’t enjoy while also mending a broken heart. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a cover of the classic, which is well executed, but a bit too bombastic for my ears.

The title track, which appears next, swerves the album out of its detour into the emotional wrought and back into the light. It’s not my favorite song on the album, but it is very, very well done. “One More Christmas” is unremarkable at best, while the closing number “Happy Holiday,” which Andy Williams made famous, has been given the most eccentric treatment I’ve ever heard. The song, which typically exudes brightness and joy, has been stripped bare to reveal an almost suicidal underbelly I can only regard as interesting.

In my time as a Mavericks fan, I’ve come to enjoy their 1990s output more than their more recent stuff. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of Don Cook’s signature production style or I just like their country stuff better, but I’ve had a difficult time embracing their latest works. But I have to say I really enjoy Hey! Merry Christmas! There are some excellent original tracks on here that add a bit of punch to the holiday music market and make this album well worth checking out if you haven’t heard it yet.

Grade: B+

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Brand New Day’

Lawrence Welk, Flaco Jimenez, Jimmy Sturr, Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Louis Prima, Charles Magnante, Jacques Brel, Earl Scruggs, Tito Puente, Perez Prado and countless others inhabit the music on this album. None of them actually appear on this album, but all of them are among the influences apparent in the newest Mavericks album Brand New Day, the group’s first album to be released on their own Mono Mundo label.

[Note: Unfortunately the digital download of the album did not come with songwriter or musician credits, although I think Max Abrams handles the saxophone throughout the album and Michael Guerra is on the accordion. Malo usually writes most of his own material, so I would assume that he wrote most of this album.]

The album opens with the upbeat “Rolling Along”. Like polka band leader Jimmy Sturr, Mavericks lead singer and guiding force Raul Malo discovered long ago that Polka, Tejano, Cajun and Western Swing are essentially the same music, just played on different instruments. This basically falls within that group of genres with banjo, accordion, fiddle and trumpets all featured within the mix.

Life isn’t easy, it’s uphill, believe me
Whether you’re weak or you’re strong
Sometimes you feel like you’re back on your heels
And everything’s going all wrong

Through the confusion and all disillusion
Somehow life still goes on
I found a cure I know works for sure
And we just keep rolling along

So bring on the trouble and burst every bubble
I promise it won’t change a thing
I always find that my peace of mind
Still flies like a bird on the wing
What’s going to happen is still going to happen
The one thing that you can count on
Don’t fix what ain’t broken while Willie’s still smoking
We’ll just keep rolling along

Next up is the title track “Brand New Day” written by Raul Malo and Allen Miller, a big rock ballad love song of the kind that greats Gene Pitney might have recorded in the 1960s or Roy Orbison in the 1980s. It is derivative but gives Malo a chance to show that he is one of the few singers who should be allowed anywhere near this material.

Baby tomorrow’s a brand new day
We’re gonna love all our troubles away
I don’t wanna live like a ghost from the past
You’re not the first but you will be my last

There’ll come a time when all of your dreams
Will all disappear like a thief in the night
(A thief in the night)
It’s never too dark to keep out the light
There’s never a wrong that you couldn’t make right
(You couldn’t make right)

Baby tomorrow’s a brand new day
We’re gonna love all our troubles away

“Easy As It Seems” has a bossa nova arrangement with a lyric that one of Motown’s fine staff writers could have written:

Things are getting crazy, I beg to understand
The more I think I know, the more I know I can’t
So tell me what the point is with everything you say
Nowhere near the truth almighty a bunch of nothing said

Do you want to get mean?
Do you want to get cruel?
Do you think it’s wise
To play the fool?

I can mentally hear either Louis Prima or Dean Martin singing “I Think of You”, the arrangement and saxophones saying Prima but the actual lyric screaming Dino. Since I am a huge fan of both Louis Prima and Dean Martin, I would probably single this song out as my favorite track on the album.

“Goodnight Waltz” evokes the images of Parisian Café Society. Sung softly and taken at a slow waltz tempo, the lyric can be taken several ways, depending upon the frame of mind of the listener.

Here I stand before your eyes
I’m just a man who’s realized
Another dream has come to light
So I’ll say goodnight

I’ll say goodnight to you
I’ll say goodnight to you
So farewell but not goodbye
So I’ll say goodnight

Time has come and gone too soon
Tomorrow brings another tune
I’ll sing them all ’til the day I die
So I’ll say goodnight

“Damned (If You Do)” reminds me of a lot of other songs I’ve heard over the years, both lyrically and melodically (the first few bars had me wondering if I was about to hear the theme from the Munsters television show and there seem to be hints of that theme at several points in the song):

And sure as you are
Of lessons you’ve learned
Decisions you’ve made
Will all be overturned
But life all alone
Is a life unfulfilled
You may not miss the hurt
But you sure do miss the thrills

You’re damned if you do
And damned if you don’t
Damned if you will
And damned if you won’t

Next up is “I Will Be Yours”, a romantic ballad that a younger Engelbert Humperdinck would have recorded as an album track in the late 1960. I can even imagine Elvis Presley or Marty Robbins tackling this song.

If you should want to, or ever need to
Find yourself someone who would be true
I know the right one, to be that someone
And he has fallen in love with you

If you surrender to love so tender
Until forever I will be yours
Don’t ever leave me, darling believe me
Until forever I will be yours

“Ride With Me” has an early rock ‘n roll feel to it (with brass and accordion added), although the song also reminds me of Bobby Troup’s classic song “Route 66”. Basically a travelogue, it is a good song anyway. If you listen closely you will hear some Bob Wills style asides from Malo.

When I’m in New York City, I never sleep a wink
When I’m in New York City, I never get to sleep a wink
But when I cross that river all I want to do is drink

Well I have been to Chicago, they said it was the promised land
You know I’ve been to Chicago, they said it was the promised land
When I arrived as a child they promised that I’d leave a man

Phoenix, Arizona; Memphis, Tennessee
Southern California, Washington DC
I gotta go… a whole world to see
So pack your bags up baby
Come along and ride with me

Of all the songs on this album “I Wish You Well” is the one that I would describe as being like a prototypical Roy Orbison song. Malo does a fabulous job singing it and conveying the regret and angst of the lyric.

This is where the road divides
This is where we have to say goodbye
Say goodbye

After all that we’ve been through
How I wish for more than this to say to you
This to say to you

Here’s to all the good times
That we’ve ever known
To the memories
Yours and mine alone

Now you lie before me
Like a star that fell
Oh I wish you well
Oh I wish you well

The album closes with “For The Ages”, a celebratory love song, with an arrangement that, with the exception of the choral coda, could be called country, the only song on the album I would so describe, although like every other song on the album, accordion is in evidence.

For the ages… that’s what our love will be
For the ages… through all of history
For the ages… who could ask for more
For the ages… that’s what our love is for

I’ve never known a love to make me feel like this
I’ve never tasted wine sweeter than your kiss
I’ve never seen a star shining in the sky
Nearly half as bright as the twinkle in your eye

Describing the music of The Mavericks has always been difficult somewhat akin to trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, only in their case the peg had a trapezoid shape. This album is no exception. It has been categorized as rock, which it is not, and I have seen it called country which it most certainly isn’t.

There is nothing new or revolutionary about any of the music on this album, and many of the songs on the album will remind long-time fans of songs on other Mavericks albums. Even so, this is one of the better albums that will be released this year, with its wide array of songs and musical styles. Raul Malo is in excellent voice throughout. My only criticism is that the album could be a little longer (it runs about 38 minutes).

Graded strictly in terms of the excellence of execution, this album is an A+. Graded on other criteria you might downgrade it to a B+ (shame on you if you do, though)

Christmas Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Silent Night’

Fellow Travelers: Neil Diamond

neil-diamond-01Neil Diamond has had an almost continuous presence on the various Billboard charts since 1965. Possessed of an excellent voice that covers the entire tenor-baritone continuum, Neil has been a titan of the pop and adult contemporary charts with some scattered play on jazz, R&B and country stations along the way.

Who Was He?

Neil Diamond started out as a songwriter, part of the legendary ‘Brill Building’ cadre of songwriters. Success for Neil came slowly until November 1965, when “Sunday and Me,” became a #18 hit for Jay and The Americans. Shortly thereafter the producers for the pre-fab four (a/k/a the Monkees) took interest in Neil’s music, recording several of his tunes including “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and “Love to Love “. The radio and television exposure generated by the Monkees did wonders for Neil’s checkbook. “I’m A Believer” spent seven weeks at #1 and sold over 10 million copies for the Monkees.

Neil’s own hits started soon thereafter, with “Solitary Man” becoming a modest success in 1966 (but a top ten record in several regional markets. The next single “Cherry, Cherry” sealed the deal reaching #6 on the pop charts. While not every subsequent single would become a top ten record, for the next twenty five years nearly every single charted on one of Billboard’s charts, and many charted globally. He ranks behind only Sir Elton John and Barbra Streisand on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts.

What Was His Connection to Country Music?

The first Neil Diamond single I can recall hearing was “Kentucky Woman”, a #22 pop hit in 1967. At the time I heard the song, I thought it was a country song, and that Neil should be performing country music. Indeed, Neil’s record received some airplay on WCMS-AM and WTID-AM in Norfolk, VA and it wasn’t long before some of his songs were being covered on country albums.

Waylon Jennings had a great terrific version of “Kentucky Woman” on his Only The Greatest album area, Roy Drusky had a top twenty county hit in 1972 with “Red Red Wine”, and T.G. Sheppard had a top 15 country hit in 1976 with “Solitary Man”. “I’m A Believer” showed up as an album track on many country albums.

In 1978-1979 Neil had a pair of songs chart in the lower reaches of the country charts in “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (billed as Neil & Barbra) and “Forever In Blue Jeans”. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was , of course, a huge pop hit but Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius covered it in the country market for a #1 record.

In 1996 Neil targeted the album Tennessee Moon at the country market and it reached #3 on the Billboard Country albums chart, although it generated no hit singles for the fifty-five year old Diamond. The album featured duets with Raul Malo , Hal Ketcham and Waylon Jennings. This would be the only time that Neil Diamond would target an album at the country music market, although many of his albums featured songs that would fit easily into the county format at the time the album was recorded.

Neil Diamond Today

Neil is still alive and recording, his most recent album being the 2014 release Melody Road. His website does not show any current tour dates, but he has not announced his retirement from touring, and he toured in 2015 so I presume he will be back touring shortly.

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Mono’

Album Cover_TheMavericks_MonoPassion, not purpose, leads the way on The Mavericks newest release, their eighth. Listening to old vinyl led them to record the album Monaural, where channels are filtered from a common signal path. Their mission is to take each listener on their own unique journey, and come away with a project that sounds almost precisely how it was recorded.

Nico Bolas teamed with Raul Malo to produce the album, appropriately titled Mono. The pair also helmed In Time, a critical masterpiece that garnered the strongest reviews of the band’s career. Malo, who had a writing credit for each of the songs on In Time, composed eleven of Mono’s twelve tracks.

Horns, courtesy of Max Abrams, find their way onto the majority of the songs found on Mono. I’m not personally a fan of this production choice, but they do help The Mavericks achieve the Cuban meets Tex-Mex style they only hinted at during their prime in the mid-1990s.

Album opener “All Night Long,” solely written by Malo, is the first single. He brings urgency to the track, turning what could’ve been a simple love song into a primal plea from a man to his woman. The horns are annoyingly grating, but I love the overall salsa vibe they successfully achieved.

Varying expressions of love find their way onto the majority of the horn drenched tracks. Energized by a bright mariachi-styled arrangement, “Summertime (When I’m With You)” compares feelings to seasons with the protagonist lamenting how he’d enjoy them more in the company of his woman. Malo’s vocal pairs perfectly with the subtlety of the content, which is distinctly straightforward. “Stories We Could Tell,” about a meeting between strangers, wonderfully evokes 1950s doo-wop. The production is quite busy, but feels perfect for jiving on a dance floor. The jazzy “Do You Want Me To” also feels ripped from a club, with a striking arrangement. I only wish Malo had turned in a subtler vocal, with some sultry tenderness.

Salsa creeps in again on “What You Do (To Me),” a cheekily executed exploration about the effects of love on the male psyche. Malo and Alan Miller capture the dizziness perfectly while Malo effortlessly links the arrangement and his vocal, giving each a fair amount of needed energy. Bonus cut “Nitty Gritty,” written by Doug Sahm twenty-three or so years ago, finds our leading man trying to rationalize why his woman left him. She didn’t enjoy the ‘nitty gritty’ of his life and thus bolted the first chance she had. While not a love song, “Waiting For The World To End” carries a similar tone and features ear catching turns of phrase that keep it distinguishable.

“Out The Door” is easily one of the strongest tracks on Mono and The Mavericks at their classic best. Malo wrote the fire out of the simple lyric, which is about his visceral reaction once she walks away for good. It would’ve been a home run for them during their 1990s heyday, but the busy production keeps it very good to great. “What Am I Supposed To Do (Without You)” covers nearly identical ground, expect now that she’s gone, he wonders how he’ll be able to go on. The treatment is excellent, giving the band space to showcase their harmonies on the catchy yet mournful pop leaning ballad. The wistful “Let It Rain” strips the way the noise, but nicely retains the mournful cry in Malo’s voice. “Pardon Me” is beautifully tender, with a man seeking room to display his out of character emotions.

Mono is a very interesting album, one that retains The Mavericks’ signature ability to defy convention around every turn. The use of horns isn’t my favorite and most of the arrangements are very cluttered, but they did manage to sneak in a few tunes that are a worthy addition to their legacy. It’s also wonderful to see one of the most eclectic bands in country music’s recent history unapologetically maintaining their title. The Mavericks have always been masters at what they do; making amateurs of anyone who dare try to imitate their sound.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Raul Malo sings Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’

Classic Rewind: Raul Malo – ‘You’re Only Lonely’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘In Time’

in timeAfter almost a decade ploughing their individual furrows, the Mavericks reunited in 2012 and released a much-anticipated comeback early in 2013 on Valory Records. Arrangements are generally heavy on the horns, and the songs, all written or co-written by Raul, don’t quite stand up with the best of their earlier material, but it is a solid record filled with energised performances by a band clearly happy to be back together.

The lead single ‘Born To Be Blue’ is quite good, but didn’t crack the top 40 on the country airplay chart. The only other single, ‘Back In Your Arms Again’, a co-write with Gary Nicholson and Seth Walker, has a strong Latin influence, and didn’t chart at all.

‘Lies’ is an up-tempo country rocker, written with Al Anderson and Bob DipIero. It’s an excellent song lyrically, but lacks melody and the arrangement or mix is too loud and relentless. ‘Come Unto Me’, sung partly in Spanish, with a full-on Spanish version tacked on to the end of the record, incorporates Latin and rock aspects, and is pretty good. ‘As Long As There’s Loving Tonight’ and ‘Dance In The Moonlight’ are examples of the band’s feelgood party numbers – enjoyable and no doubt even more so live.

By far my favourite track, ‘In Another’s Arms’ is a tender ballad showcasing Raul’s voice at his soaring best and is tastefully produced. The languid ‘Forgive Me’ is another beautifully sung ballad.

‘Amsterdam Moon’ and ‘That’s Not My Name’ have a retro pop feel which is not my cup of tea, but well done. I enjoyed ‘Fall Apart’, which has a bouncy polka-style accordion-led accompaniment backing an unrepentant lyric about risking hurt for the sake of love. ’All Over Again’ has a similar joie de vivre, and a lyric about defying a helpless love for the woman who insists on breaking his heart repeatedly.

At over eight minutes, ‘Call Me When You Get To Heaven’ is far too long while not really getting anywhere interesting, and feels self-indulgent to me.

This isn’t a particularly country album, but is it is an enjoyable one which fans of the band should catch up on if they missed it.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘Lucky One’

51unuMG0UHLLike much of Raul Malo’s solo efforts — as well as his later work with The Mavericks — 2009’s Lucky One is not a country album, but that’s not to say that there isn’t much to recommend it. In fact, I would much rather listen to it over pretty much anything that gets airplay on today’s country radio. If pressed to categorize the album under a neat label, I would probably say that it is the type of music that used to be marketed to adults before pop music became overly bland and dependent on electronic sounds and studio technology, the sort of music that could regularly be heard on Top 40 radio 30 or 40 years ago, but is largely without a commercial outlet today.

Malo co-produced the album with Steve Berlin and had a hand in writing all of its 12 tracks. The album produced two non-charting singles. The first was the somewhat bland title track, which opens the set. I was a bit apprehensive upon hearing it the first time, thinking that it was the first of a dozen tedious songs to get through, but things took pleasant change of direction beginning with the second track, “Moonlight Kiss”, which was the album’s second single. Malo’s voice is often compared to Roy Orbison, but his performance on this track is reminiscent of Elvis Presley. The background vocals are a little kitschy but overall the song is very catchy and enjoyable.

Malo channels Dean Martin on the easy-going and relaxing “You Always Win”. But on the majority of tracks he is back to his trademark Orbison-esque sound. The standout track is the ballad “Crying For You”, on which he delivers a stunning vocal performance. The rockabilly-flavored “Lonely Hearts” is about the closest Malo comes to country music on this album.

I can only take adult contemporary music in limited doses; the lack of country instrumentation usually results in a sound that is too bland for my liking. Malo avoids falling into that trap with Lucky One. The songs are all well sung and the album is tastefully produced, and the restrained use of horns compensates for the lack of fiddle and steel. Malo’s tenor, however is the glue that holds the album together. He and Berlin wisely let his voice shine, never letting the production overwhelm it.

Lucky One is one of the best non-country albums I have ever listened to. It’s extremely rare that a non-country album gets a thumbs up from me, but this one does. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly deserves a listen.

Grade: A

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘After Hours’

51tOoPsggiLThere is always risk in releasing an album of “covers”. First, the possibility always exists that the material is too familiar to attract much attention. Second, there is the risk of being unfavorably compared to the earlier versions of the material being covered.

After Hours mostly avoids the first risk by focusing on material from before 1973, ensuring that most of the audience will not be terribly familiar with the material. The second risk is more problematic as there are some definite misfires in the tempos at which some of the songs are performed.

The album opens with “Welcome To My World”, a ballad generally associated with either “Gentleman” Jim Reeves or Dean Martin, two of the premier balladeers of the twentieth century. Jim Reeves had a smooth, velvety voice capable of conveying warmth like few others (Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Ray Price) ever could. Dean Martin was the King of Cool with great warmth but a more casual feel to his vocals than Reeves could achieve. If you have not heard either Reeves or Martin perform this song, then you will really like Malo’s performance. Raul does not have the warmth of his predecessors, but does an admirable job with the song and the accompaniment is excellent.

“(Now and Then) There’s A Fool Such As I” is a slight misstep, taken at a tempo that is too fast and bouncy for the sad lyrics. This song was a big hit for Hank Snow in 1952 and was covered by some guy named Elvis Presley (himself a big Hank Snow fan) a few years later. A honky-tonk style piano takes a break in the song but the basic arrangement is big band swing.

Malo gets back on track with the Kris Kristofferson classic “For The Good Times”, a song which revitalized Ray Price’s career in the early 1970s. Again, I prefer Ray’s version, but Raul’s take is very nice.
Steel Guitar is heard on this song toward the very end of the song

The two newest songs on the album come from the pen of Dwight Yoakam. The first of these is “Pocket of A Clown”, a song that just missed the top twenty for Dwight in 1994 (it reached #4 on the Canadian country chart). Raul’s arrangement is a little slower than the original and has a 40s/50s feel to the horn arrangements.

“Crying Time” was written by Buck Owens, who regarded the song as album filler. A few years later Ray Charles resurrected the song causing Buck to add it to his set list (usually as part of a medley). It’s a great song, and Malo does it justice, although he can’t deliver it with the same soul that Ray did (no one else could either).

A serious misstep follows with the Hank Williams classic “Cold Cold Heart”. It certainly is possible to treat the song as a pop song (Tony Bennett sold millions of copies with his cover) but here the tempo is much too fast and much too happy for such a morose set of lyrics

“You Can Depend On Me” is the oldest song on the album written sometime before 1931 by Charles Carpenter, Louis Dunlap and jazz piano great Earl “Fatha” Hines. The song was recorded by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Nat King Cole. In 1961 Brenda Lee took it to #6 on the pop charts. Malo handles this song quite effectively. The basic arrangement would be that of cocktail lounge jazz.

Oh if you ever, if you ever need a friend
I’ll be right by your side until the end
And you can depend on me
You can depend on me

My favorite song on the album is “Husbands and Wives”, which was written by Roger Miller and went top five country, #2 adult contemporary and top thirty pop for Roger in 1966. Subsequently, the duo of David Frizzell and Shelly West had a top twenty county hit with it in 1981, and Brooks & Dunn took it to #1 country and #36 pop in 1998. This song features steel guitar as part of the instrumentation, the only truly country sounding song of the album. For me, it as a toss-up whether Neil Diamond’s album track from his 1971 album Stones or Raul’s version on this album is my favorite version of this song.

The angry words, spoken in haste
Such a waste of two lives
It’s my belief, pride is the chief cause and the decline
In the number of husbands and wives

Speaking of Roger Miller, one of the last songs Roger wrote was a co-write with Dwight Yoakam on “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” a #7 country hit for Yoakam in 1991. Again, Malo uses an arrangement very similar to Dwight’s original and performs the song well. There are horns on this track and they serve to create a swinging effect, even though the tempo is no faster than the Yoakam original.

The album closes with a very nice rendition of the Hy Heath-Fred Rose composition “Take These Chains From My Heart”, best known as a posthumous #1 hit for Hank Williams in 1953, and in 1963, a #8 pop hit Ray Charles (Ray’s version also reached #5 in the UK). The accompaniment on this final track starts out with just a single guitar then expands with the subsequent verses, but remains at all times uncluttered, with tasteful saxophone and piano solos between the vocals.

After Hours is an enjoyable album which I would rate as good, but not great, as it is marred by the tempo errors noted above. Malo is in good voice throughout and he is accompanied by what could be essentially described as a jazz quintet of himself on guitar, Robert Chevrier on piano, Jay Weaver on bass, Tom Lewis on drums and Jim Hoke on sax, clarinet and steel guitar. The album was recorded live, with only Hoke being overdubbed occasionally (it’s tough to play three instruments simultaneously). Malo and producer Evan York, keep the focus on the melodies and lyrics, never obscuring either.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Raul Malo and Dolly Parton – ‘Don’t Let Me Cross Over’

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘You’re Only Lonely’

MI0000639291You’re Only Lonely, Raul Malo’s second solo album, bowed in the summer of 2006. His only release for Sanctuary Records, the album failed to make an impression on the country album chart.

Peter Asher, best known for working with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, produced the set. His direction steered Malo away from the Latin Tex-Mex sound he’s made his signature, in an effort to present his take on classic songs backed by a full on string section.

“Feels Like Home,” the only single, failed to chart. The song appears on the album in two forms, including as a duet with Martina McBride. Both versions feature the same lush AC arrangement, but the track works better with Malo having McBride to work off of. While pleasant, the production is way too Disney and sounds like it was recorded specifically for one of their animated features.

The majority of You’re Only Lonely is comprised of Malo singing standards. “At Last” suppresses the distinctive qualities of his voice while he sounds more comfortable on “For You,” which is treated with an upbeat jazzy accompaniment that feels akin to his signature Mavericks sound.

There’s sexiness to a number of ballads, with Malo turning in powerful vocal performances on songs with varying degrees of quality. His take on The Bee Gees’ “Run To Me” is a good showcase for him even though the production feels generic. He brings out more of his sultriness on “Games That Lovers Play” and turns convincingly romantic with “Secret Heart.” “Tomorrow Night” and the title track are home runs, with Malo’s upfront vocal given space to shine above ear-catching smooth jazz backgrounds.

He ventures into country territory with “Angles Flying Too Close To The Ground,” which is given a full on gospel arrangement that Willie Nelson’s original only hinted it. “So Sad” also nods to country, with what appears to be light steel guitar in the background.

It’s plainly obvious that Asher knew how gifted Malo is as a vocalist and wanted to present his gifts in the best light possible for maximum mainstream exposure. Malo comes off like a Josh Grobin clone more often than not and while he competently holds his own, it’s not a compliment. Malo is too distinctive for comparisons and should be presented for who he is, not made to fit within a particular group in order to find mass popularity. But there’s no doubt how gifted Malo is, which he showcases brilliantly. There may not be enough of his own personality on You’re Only Lonely, but that doesn’t mean the album is terrible.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes and Dave Pomeroy – ‘The Nashville Acoustic Sessions’

nashville acoustic sessionsOne of Raul Malo lesser known recordings, yet perhaps my personal favourite, is the acoustic album he released in collaboration with three virtuoso musicians: Pat Flynn of New Grass Revival (on acoustic guitar and mandolin), dobro genius Rob Ickes and bassist Dave Pomeroy. Malo takes care of all the lead vocals, and despite the democratic equal billing, to all intents and purposes this works as a solo Raul Malo album – and the best he has made. It was released in 2004, just after the breakup of the Mavericks.

The record opens with a beautiful version of ‘Blue Bayou’, with Raul Malo’s vocal measured yet soaring to challenge the Orbison original.

Raul’s vocal on the Louvin Brothers’ ‘When I Stop Dreaming’ is exquisite, and for once one doesn’t miss the harmonies. He is joined by the harmonies of Flynn and Ickes in a committed take on the Louvins’ Cold War-inspired gospel song ‘The Great Atomic Power’.

An ethereally mournful wail is used for a haunting version of Hank Williams’s ‘Weary Blues From Waiting’. Jimmie Rodgers ‘Waiting For A Train’ is, a little disappointingly, relegated to an instrumental – perhaps to make the point that it isn’t technically a Malo album, but I would have liked to hear him sing this, although it goes without saying that it is beautifully played.

‘Hot Burrito #1’ (the Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers’ song in which the protagonist bemoans “I’m your toy”) has another stellar vocal and stripped down arrangement.

Gordon Lightfoot’s gentle folk-country ‘Early Morning Rain’ is delivered smoothly, while Van Morrison’s ‘Bright Side Of The Road’ is perky. Bob Dylan’s ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ is strongly performed, with additional harmonies from R&B singer Siedah Garrett, but is one of the less memorable tracks.

Pop/Great American Songbook standards ‘Moon River’ and ‘I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons)’ are beautifully sung, particularly the former.

This may not appeal to those Mavericks fans most drawn to the Latin party side of the band – but Raul Malo’s magnificent voice is showcased at its very best. I rather wish he had continued in this vein, but he had more eclectic paths in mind.

Grade: A+

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘The Mavericks’

3148RANN18LIn September 2003, The Mavericks released an eponymous album, which was the first after leaving MCA and their last before they disbanded after their 2004 tour.

Since their inception in 1989, The Mavericks had been an eclectic band, though most of their major label work fit firmly in the mainstream country of its day. The Mavericks, however, which was released on the British-based Sanctuary Records, is in no way, shape or form a country album, nor — to its credit — does it pretend to be.

The band had enjoyed some international success a few years earlier with Trampoline. On the surface, The Mavericks, appears to be an attempt to appeal to mainstream pop fans in Europe, but I can’t find any data on how well it actually sold there. Stateside, it made very little impact, with only one of its three singles — a remake of “The Air That I Breathe”, a 1974 pop hit for The Hollies, appearing on the country charts, peaking at #59.

This is an album that has to be approached with the right frame of mind. Once the listener accepts that it is not a country album, he/she will likely conclude that it is a pretty good pop album. Some of the songs have a Latin influence, but mostly this is reminiscent of 1960s pop, before the lines between pop and rock became blurred.

There are a few names that will be familiar to country fans among the songwriting credit: Rick Trevino co-wrote “In My Dreams”. His own version appears on his 2003 album of the same name, which was produced by Raul Malo. Jaime Hanna, son of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, co-wrote several tracks with Raul Malo and Alan Miller. And surprisingly, Dale Watson, one of the most outspoken critics of “poptry” music, had a hand in writing the Latin-flavored “I’m Wondering.”

My favorite track is the catchy earworm “Would You Believe”, which sounds like something from one of my Dad’s old Herman’s Hermits albums. Willie Nelson joins the group for “Time Goes By”, which is less Roy Orbison-esque than most of the album. It wasn’t released as a single, but seems like it could have had a shot at being a hit, although country radio had pretty much abandoned The Mavericks by now.

This isn’t the type of music I usually listen to and it’s probably not for hardcore country fans, but it does remind me of the kind of pop music that could be heard on the radio when I was growing up, and it makes a nice change of pace. It’s not essential listening, but loyal Mavericks fans will enjoy it.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘ Trampoline’

61AdyrEL0RL._SS280The Mavericks’ fifth studio album, Trampoline was their most successful album globally, not reaching only #9 on the US country chart, but unlike any of their other albums, before or after, also having significant success  in other countries. The album reached #3 on the Canadian country charts, #43 on the Canadian pop charts, #10 on the British and New Zealand pop charts and charting on the album charts of Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

This was fueled by the success of “Dance The Night Away”, which while not a big hit on the US or Canadian country charts, reached #4 on the British pop chart, #25 in the Netherlands. Another British single from the album, “I’ve Got This Feeling” also cracked the top thirty.

As time went on, The Mavericks’ albums focused less on the band as a whole, and more on lead singer Raul Malo. I suppose this was inevitable, given the unique vocal talents of Malo, and this album completed that progression. Less country than its predecessors, Trampoline seamlessly blends together all of Malo’s musical influences. Of the albums thirteen songs, Malo either wrote or co-wrote twelve, the only exception being “I Hope You Want Me Too” from the pens of “Big” Kenny Alphin and Jaime Hanna.

Some of the songs feature a lot of musicians. In addition to the band members, twenty-one other musicians plus the Nashville String Machine play on the album. This includes a full complement of horns and reeds., as well as banjo and steel guitar.

The album opens up with the Latin-flavored “Dance The Night Away”, which while not an across the board hit on the US country charts (#63 US country  / #72 Canada country) received huge radio airplay in Florida (and I suspect other markets with large Latino populations).  The song is about what the singer is doing since his girl left him.

“Tell Me Why” , co-written with Al Anderson, has a strong 70s soul/ R&B ballad flavor to it  This is followed by the Latin-tinged “I Should Know” which despite the horns and steel guitars sounds like something from one of the British invasion bands of the 1960s

Every night alone
Every night I spent without you
Every little thing about you
Runs right through my mind
I wonder where you are
And do you ever think about me
And if you get the feeling that
There’s something missing too
But I should know
You’ll never come back to me
Even though I will always love you
I should know

“Someone Should Tell Her”, also co-written with Al Anderson, didn’t chart on the US and I am not sure that it was released as a single here. It was a single in the United Kingdom, reaching #45 and is probably my favorite song on the album.

Someone should tell her
How much I love her
Before she goes and
Runs away with him
If you should see her
Tell her I need her
Maybe then
She’ll come back to me
Ever since I broke her heart
She won’t talk to me
All I need is a one last chance
To make up and say I’m sorry

“To Be With You” is a nice country love ballad, devoid of Latin flavoring that would likely have been a hit had it been issued during the period from 1965- 1985. The Nashville String Machine is prominently featured on this track.

The next track is a bluesy curve ball, the languid “Fool #1” , which sounds like something you might hear on a modern (but not too modern) jazz album or perhaps in some cocktail lounge somewhere, except Malo is a better singer than anyone you would likely hear in such a setting. The Nashville String Machine is tastefully employed in service of this song.

“I Don’t Even Know Her Name” also sounds like British Invasion pop, which may explain why it was issued as a single in the UK , reaching #27. On this song, Malo dials down his vocals a bit to sound more like a typical British invasion vocalist.

All in all this is a very interesting album flitting from genre to genre and reflecting a wide array of influences. I’ve pretty much covered the highlights of the album, but the entire album is worth hearing.  “Melbourne Mambo” probably comes closest to the sound of Malo’s Cuban heritage. Really , the only misstep is “Dolores”, which has a 1890s sound (piano and clarinet are the dominant instruments) with Malo singing into a megaphone – shades of “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band of the 1960s, or earlier still, Rudy Vallee in the late 1920s/early 1930s. The track is not terrible but it is a waste of Malo’s unique voice.

The two closing tracks “Save A Prayer” which has that tent-revival sound and feel to it, and “Dream River” which has the feel of a Pat Boone or Elvis Presley ballad from the 1950s.

I really like this album and would give it an A+ but as what ?

A country album ??

A pop album ??

An easy listening/adult contemporary album ??

Classifications can be so meaningless. Just sit back and enjoy the album !

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Music For All Occasions’

MusicforAllOccasionsIn the wake of their landmark What A Crying Shame, the Academy of Country Music named The Mavericks Top New Vocal Group for 1994, and Top Vocal Group in 1994 and 1995. The Country Music Association followed suit, with Vocal Group honors in 1995 and 1996.

Amidst the praise from the industry, they released Music For All Occasions, in the fall of 1995. Co-produced by Don Cook and Ralo Malo, the LP peaked at #9 and contains two of the most beloved singles they’ve ever released.

The Malo and Kostas penned “Here Comes The Rain” peaked at #22. The mid-tempo ballad became an instant classic despite it’s lack of airplay, and won the band their lone Grammy – Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal – in 1996.

The catchy as hell second single “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” was their most unconventional single to date at the time, with an unapologetic Tex-Mex vibe courtesy of featured accordionist Flaco Jiménez. The bright sing-along nature of the track, combined with Malo’s distinctive twangy vocal, helped the song soar to #13.

With The Mavericks’ biggest radio hit yet under their belt, MCA chose the astonishing string and steel soaked ballad “Missing You” as the final single. Despite another brilliant vocal from Malo, the track criminally stalled at #54.

Like “Missing You,” the majority of Music For All Occasions is a melting pot of 60s pop mixed with elements of the Nashville Sound and neo-traditional country. Album opener “Foolish Heart” is a prime example as are “One Step Away,” “My Secret Flame,” “Loving You” and “I’m Not Gonna Cry for you.” They also go honky-tonk with “The Writing On The Wall” and “If You Only Knew,” gifting listeners with rip-roaring pedal steel and a swinging attitude.

To make one more left-of-center statement, The Mavericks close the record with a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Something Stupid.” A duet between Malo and Trisha Yearwood, the track features a Spanish-influenced lead guitar mixed with flourishes of harmonica. Like everything Yearwood graces, the results are outstanding.

Music For All Occasions is a revelation that moves the genre forward by bucking all popular trends, nodding to the past, and flawlessly executing on all fronts. The album brilliantly captures a group at the height of their prowess, creating magic at every turn. It pains me to think it sold roughly half of What A Crying Shame because this is music that desperately needs to be heard.

I urge everyone to seek out a copy. Music For All Occasions redefines the idea of essential listening and sounds just as fresh and exciting today as it did twenty years ago.

Grade: A+

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘What A Crying Shame’

51C7p4ENGmL._SS2801994’s What A Crying Shame was The Mavericks’ third album overall, their second for a major label and the first to have any significant commercial impact. It paired them for the first time with Don Cook who would produce (or co-produce with Raul Malo) all of the group’s albums for MCA from this point forward.

The Mavericks made their first chart appearance in 1992 with a remake of Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking'”, which peaked at #74. “What A Crying Shame” did significantly better, reaching #25. There were four additional singles released from the album. two of them – “O What A Thrill” and “There Goes My Heart”, reached the Top 20. “I Should Have Been True” reached #30 and the final single “All That Heaven Will Allow” topped out at #49.

As noted in some other discussions, The Mavericks were largely considered to be a “fringe” act; however, What A Crying Shame is bonafide country with plenty of fiddle and pedal steel — albeit with glossy production and highly polished vocals from Raul Malo that are often reminiscent of Roy Orbison. It is solidly within what was considered mainstream country at the time, which makes radio’s tepid response a bit puzzling. I can only speculate that it is because there was a lot of formidable competition in the 90s. Perhaps in another era The Mavericks would have made more of an impact.

What A Crying Shame may not have received a lot of support from radio, but it did connect with fans, and generated platinum-level sales. It’s a shame that it didn’t get more airplay because it is an excellent album from start to finish. Most of the songs have a 60s feel to them. Raul Malo had a hand in writing seven of the album’s eleven tracks, teaming up on several of them — including the title track and my favorite “There Goes My Heart”, with Kostas, who was one of the hottest songwriters in Nashville at the time.

In addition to Raul Malo and Kostas, What A Crying Shame boasts some impressive songwriting credits, including Jesse Winchester who wrote “O What A Thrill”, Bruce Springsteen who wrote “All That Heaven Will Allow” and the great Harlan Howard who co-wrote “Ain’t Found Nobody” with Kostas.

Even though it sold more than a million copies in the US, the album’s limited radio airplay means that few outside of the million people that bought it have heard most of these songs, and younger fans are unlikely to have heard them at all. I strongly recommend that anyone who hasn’t heard the album pick up a copy; this is exactly the sort of country music that Nashville should be making today.

Grade: A

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘From Hell To Paradise’

from hell to paradiseIf their independent album was a promising start from a band with better things to come, the Maverick’s major label debut showed them start to fulfil that promise.

They chose to recut a number of the best songs from the record’s independent predecessor, all written by Raul Malo. They opened with ‘Mr Jones’, about a return to an abandoned home, followed by ‘The End Of The Line’, a powerful indictment of disgraced TV preacher Jim Bakker. Also repeated were ‘A Better Way’ and the soaring Orbisonesque ballad ‘This Broken Heart’, which showed how Raul’s vocals had improved since the first album.

Two classic covers were included, perhaps to seal the band’s country credentials in the neotraditional environement currently dominating country radio. A raucous take on Hank Williams ‘Hey Good Lookin’ is full of energy but lacks light and shade, and was an unsuccessful first single.. A great cover of the Buck Owens hit ‘Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)’ is excellent.

The Bakersfield sound was brought up to date with a bit of a country-rock edge in the shape of ‘Forever Blue’, a Raul Malo solo composition, and ‘I Got You’, which Raul wrote with Radney Foster. The latter is a very good song about a loving relationship making hard times bearable. It was the album’s second single, but unfortunately failed to chart.

The title track is a Raul Malo song about the experience of Cuban refugees, with an impassioned chorus sung partly in Spanish,
I’ll always pay the price.

The most memorable song is the waltz time ‘Children’ a impassioned song about child abuse and neglect with a beautiful fiddle leading in.

The child who is raised by an unworthy hand
Has a less of a chance of being a man
Who will try to remember and then understand
Why a mother would cry while her husband lay dead
Shot down by the gun of a runaway train
Cause life in the fast lane it all ends the same

Well, the same children’s lives they will always regret
Are the children who never forget…

Good night, good night, sweet child
Why don’t you dream with the angels to forget for a while
To forget of the life that’s been handed to you
Where everything’s real yet nothing is true

It is the only record I have ever heard where a child chorus actually worked, and the song is very moving.

This was an excellent introduction to the mainstream for the band. It did not break them as stars, as the singles got very limited airplay, but it is very much worthwhile tracking it down.

Grade: A+