The Mavericks’ debut album, released in early 1991 on the Miami-based Cross Three label, was not widely circulated until after their major label debut on MCA in mid-1992, but those who had the opportunity to hear the album, see the band in live performance, or hear the single “This Broken Heart” played on the radio in South Florida and Central, could tell that something interesting was about to happen.
As a band, the Mavericks were an oddity, coming from South Florida, hardly a hotbed for country music, with a Cuban-American lead singer who wrote all of the songs on the debut album, and had a voice reminiscent of Gene Pitney or Roy Orbison, a pair of prominent pop singers of the 1960s.
Often, early efforts by performers result in albums prove to be embarrassing when revisited later. Not so with The Mavericks which features an array of interesting songs four of which (“Mr. Jones”, “The End of the Line (Jim Bakker)”, “This Broken Heart” and “A Better Way”) would be reprised on their major label debut album From Hell To Paradise. The lead vocalist, Raul Malo, was still finding his voice, but it was clear that he was getting there. The band at this time consisted of singer Raul Malo, guitarist Ben Peeler, bassist Robert Reynolds; and drummer Paul Deakin. This would be the only album on which Peeler, a competent but somewhat pedestrian electric guitar player, would appear. By the time the next album appeared, he had been replaced by David Lee Holt.
In fairness to Ben Peeler, when he was playing acoustic guitar, steel guitar, dobro, mandolin or banjo, his work was very nice.
The album opens with “You’ll Never Know” an upbeat song that would have fit in the repertoire of Ricky Nelson during the 1950s & 1960s. It’s a very rock & roll but with fiddle and steel featured prominently in the mix.
“End Of The Line (Jim Bakker)” would be repeated on From Hell To Paradise using essentially the same arrangement. Another up-tempo song, Malo’s vocal is a bit more tentative on this album and the guitar is more acoustic.
“This Broken Heart” is a great song that would be repeated on From Hell To Paradise and likely would have charted if released as a single on a major label. This initial version features a somewhat more languid arrangement that would appear on the next album and Malo puts a little less muscle in his vocal than would later be the case. Disc jockeys around Central Florida would occasionally play either this track or the version from the following album, after the band reached prominence.
“Mr. Jones” would also appear on From Hell To Paradise with a nearly identical arrangement but with a more assertive vocal by Malo. It’s a good mid-tempo song.
“Tomorrow Never Comes” is a nice up-tempo jog-along country ballad of the kind that Buck Owens might have tackled in the 1960s. Debbie Spring’s fiddle is featured prominently at points throughout the song.
This is followed up by “The Lonely Waltz” which is, as advertised, a waltz. It’s not a great song but it is a good song with some nice mandolin work by Ben Peeler and harmonica by Homer Wills. I should note that Peeler seems most effective when playing acoustic guitar or mandolin on this album.
“Watch Over Me” is a very up-tempo number that kicks off with a fiddle, quickly joined by banjo – the melody and tempo are really too upbeat for the rather melancholy lyrics.
“A Better Way” has a kind of 50s country feel to it, a ballad with steel guitar serving as the lead instrument. This song would be reprised on From Hell To Paradise taken at a very slightly faster tempo but again with more forceful vocals by Malo.
In contrast “Another Lonely Life (Paul’s Song)” feels more like a folk ballad with a nice harmonica work by Homer Wills.
“I Don’t Care (If You Love Me Anymore)” is another loping ballad followed by the very up-tempo “Keep Moving On”, again with a melody that doesn’t quite fit the lyrics. I think that if Malo were to record this song again he would slow it down and put a little more emotion in the his vocals, which sound very detached emotionally.
“I’ll Give You Back (When You Belong To Me)” features some nice fiddle on a western swing melody. Again, sad lyrics coupled with a happy melody that does not quite fit the lyrics.
The album closes out with the very folk sounding “Strength To Say Goodbye”.
I like this album, which I purchased just before their major label debut, and would give it a B but if Malo were to simply strip out his original vocals and re-record them with his more mature vocal style of just a few years later, this would be a much better album, worthy of a B+.
Comparing this album with From Hell To Paradise which was issued just a year and a half later, the most striking thing is the growth in Malo’s vocal prowess. For an apt comparison check out Roy Orbison’s rather wimpy vocals on his Sun Records recording of “Ooby Dooby” with Roy’s powerful vocals on “Only The Lonely”. This is a group that started out good and got much better quickly predicated mostly upon the lead vocalist’s rapid maturation process and the decision to use some outside material, rather than sticking with exclusively Malo’s compositions.