Raul Malo: Lucky One

raulmalo_luckyoneFormer Mavericks vocalist summons country, swing, Latin and more

Following three albums that visited MOR supper-club pop (2006’s You’re Only Lonely), swing (2007’s After Hours), and a broad palette of seasonal sounds (2007’s Marshmallow World and Other Holiday Favorites), Raul Malo returns with his first album of original material since 2001’s Today. His latest songs circle back to the genre-stretching experiments of the Mavericks’ last two albums for MCA (1995’s Music for All Occasions and 1998’s Trampoline), but approach from the other side: rather than shedding country sounds to make room for pop and jazz influences, Malo reintroduces twangier elements into the purer strains of crooning that had become the meat of his solo career.

As on the Mavericks’ albums, Malo’s baritone draws the ear’s focus. The soaring vocal of the album’s title track is laced with twangy guitar and punctuated by a three-piece horn section. Country sounds are brought to the fore on “Lonely Hearts,” with Malo doubling his vocal, Buck Owens style, and a chugging organ adding Tex-Mex flavors ala the Sir Douglas Quintet. Malo hasn’t forsaken the Rat Pack vibe of his recent solo outings, as “Moonlight Kiss” hoofs along on a Latin rhythm, “You Always Win” sports a jazzy countrypolitan sound, and “Ready For My Lovin’” offers Ray Charles-styled gospel-blues. The baritone guitar of “Something Tells Me” offers a familiar twang to Mavericks fans, and the emotional vocal on “Hello Again” and dramatic crescendos of “Crying For You” suggest Roy Orbison’s spirit hovering nearby.

The ballad “So Beautiful” closes the album in dreamy emotion, with Malo’s voice accompanied by piano and strings. This album isn’t the left turn of Today, but aside from “Moonlight Kiss” and “Haunting Me,” it’s also not as ring-a-ding-ding kitschy as Malo’s last three albums. This new set represents a summation of all the musical flavors Malo’s touched so far, playing more as a collection of singles than a cohesive album. Fans longing for the Mavericks’ country roots will be pleased, as will late-night swingers and those who just love Malo’s incredible voice. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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