Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

This week we're taking the latest releases from the incomparable Raul Malo out for a test drive. The multi-talented former member of the Grammy-Award winning Mavericks is currently bringing his unique blend of stylish C&W crooning to lucky audiences up and down the East Coast and he was kind enough to spend a few minutes with As The Disc Spins from 'the road'. The following reviews include a few of his reflections on a lifetime of diverse influences.

Raul Malo -- After Hours (New Door/UMe)

As longtime readers will attest, we heralded Malo's previous project You're Only Lonely (2006) as "creating a nostalgic niche unto itself" for reviving tunes such as J.D. Souther's title track, the Everly Bros.' "So Sad," the Bee Gees' "Run to Me," and a reading of Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" that unleashes a cathartic gospel energy that will move listeners without fail.

Rarely does an artist carry such a residual wellspring of inspiration the way that Raul Malo has on his third solo outing After Hours. He says "being able to really pay respect to these songs is something that I have been wanting to do as long as I can remember." With so many established voices -- Barry Manilow, Rod Stewart and Billy Joel come to mind -- already attempting analogous endeavors and uniformly failing, how did Malo avoid the pitfalls when creating this album of remakes? He says, for starters "each has a personal resonance with me".

Arguably, that is the key to pulling off the intensely intimate reading of Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times". The melody is guided by a sophisticated jazz score that could easily have been a Sinatra left over from the late 1950s. To similar effect, the simple elegance of "Take These Chains From My Heart" perfectly complements both Ray Charles' remake and  Hank Williams' earlier and more influential version. However, Malo expresses particular pride over "You Can Depend On Me," which has been overhauled by folks as diverse as Brenda Lee to The Manhattan Transfer. "We nailed that one," Malo beams. The late night atmosphere is tangible as the vocalist's robust lines hang over the instruments like an after hours smoke-filled barroom. 

Those numbers are tempered with the addictively upbeat take of "(Now And Then There's) Such A Fool As I" and a second Hank Williams selection "Cold, Cold Heart". On the latter, the swing time band treatment could not be better, showing off a side of Malo that will hopefully resurface on future endeavours. Unquestionable props are also due to his backing band --  featuring Robert Chevrier (piano), sometimes NRBQ member Jim Hoke (sax/clarinet/steel guitar), Tom Lewis (drums) and Jay Weaver (bass) -- as their sonic support is crucial to the consistent authenticity throughout.

Raul Malo -- Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites (New Door/UMe)

Raul Malo has revived the spirit of the great holiday albums of the late '50s and early '60s with this 11-song seasonal anthology. Even had Malo not been graced with such angelic pipes, his flawless taste and impeccable ability to create musical moods would have served him well. Marshmallow World … (2007) immediately hearkens back to the palpable anticipation imbued in the mere mention of vintage Christmas collections by the likes of Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Andy Williams.

One key factor in attempting to recreate such timelessness was, according to Malo, to simply "choose things that everyone knows". Adding, that "by removing yourself as an artist, you can show off the beauty that is in the music to begin with." Malo interjects just enough of his sweater-weather vibe to toast up generational family favorites such as the title track "Marshmallow World," which retains all the jolly jangle swagger of Dean Martin's more familiar version. 

The snazzy and classy take of "Jingle Bells has an ice cool Yule swing that simply won't let go, while "White Christmas" takes on a sultry finger-snappin' jazz rhythm that conjures up Peggy Lee's "Fever". The potency of "Silent Night" stands out for its stark simplicity as Malo and company allow the music to create an almost humbling ambiance. Conversely, the rousing R&B yearning-infused "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is a tribute to the baptized-in-brass soul of Ray Charles. "Silver Bells" is given an impassioned Latin tango modification that offers such a fresh perspective, that the melody soaks up new musical connotations. 

Perhaps the most obscure entry is "Not So Merry Christmas," which 1950s teen idol Bobby Vee had a measure of success with. Behind Malo's larger-than-life reverb-drenched guitar, the number becomes an authentic modern heartbreak ballad. Malo then steps it up a notch by putting 'the blues' back into the impressively powerful "Blue Christmas". Finally, the whimsical "Winter Wonderland" is a short, sweet, wink and a nod as the blithely whistled and strummed melody is strummed on a ukulele as if the artist were sailing away to a tropical paradise and leaving all the snowy behind.

Raul Malo will be making his way through our area twice in the next few weeks. First on Saturday, October 13th at the Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall in Asheville and then again on Thursday, November 15th at the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, NC. These are rare opportunities to see and hear Malo doing what he does best in the cozy confines of two of the regions best live music venues. More information on these and other stops on the tour can be found on-line at www.raulmalo.com.


Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist based out of the Piedmont of North Carolina. He's a  frequent contributor to All Music Guide, All Movie Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
All comments and questions are encouraged and can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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