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Published: 2010/10/06
by Nancy Dunham

Raul Malo Embraces "Saints and Sinners"

Think of Raul Malo as the polka-dotted elephant – or maybe even the train with square wheels – in the classic cartoon ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

He uses those examples from the fictional “Island of Misfit Toys” to explain where he fits into the music spectrum these days, especially since he left the much-heralded Mavericks. Now as a solo artist, Malo follows his own musical impulses. That leaves some music insiders scratching their heads a bit wondering where to place his lush, dynamic sound

“You get invited and you take it. That’s about as honest an answer I can give you,” said Malo of his recent appearances at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville. “Plus, I feel Americana should be, and it is to many degrees, a land of misfits. It’s like in the old cartoon, the ‘Island of Misfit Toys.’ And that’s ok. What a wonderful thing.”

Interesting that Malo’s latest album – the richly textured and intricately arranged Sinners and Saints – seems to put him squarely into that misfit category. The sound is clearly a major departure from the Mavericks traditional country infused with rock that won popular and critical acclaim for Malo and his band mates in the 1990s.

Sinners and Saints is a mix of Latin tunes such as “Superstar” punctuated with a hint of Alt Country in Rodney Crowell’s ‘Til I Gain Control Again,’ and “Saint Behind the Glass,” from Los Lobos and Tex-Mex in “Sombras.”

Malo approaches music much as an author would approach a book. In Malo’s case, each song is a chapter. In this musical book, he tackles tough issues about planning for the future, looking beyond “today,” and collaboration for the common good. He also explores his earliest musical roots including the Spanish songs with flamenco touches his mother tells him he first experienced as a baby.

“I went back and started listening to some of those old Spanish recordings,” he said, adding the strong lyrics that tell stories are often accented by playfulness.

“I thought what a beautiful approach to creating music – it’s an empty canvas. There are no rules for the listener. I’m sure the performer and players have rules, but I came at it as a listener.”

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