1 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Is this the guy who sang the ultra cool Santana sound-alike hit "Suavacito?" We should be so lucky. No, "Suavacito" was honchoed by Jorge Santana, brother of Carlos. Raul Malo was a member of The Mavericks, a group of musical minor leaguers who released half a dozen snoozey country western albums in 80s and 90s. Since the corralling of the Mavericks in 2000, Raul Malo has pursued a solo career, releasing half a dozen albums incorporating Tejano, rockabilly, honky tonk and Cuban music alongside his inexplicable devotion to country and western. He was also a driving force behind the Latin supergroup "Los Super Seven," which was bolstered by the far superior talents of Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. A few years ago he battled cancer and won. Stands to reason he'd call his seventh album "Lucky One," since he wasn't supposed to be around to record it. He's lucky, but anyone who gives it a listen won't be.
"Lucky One" marks the first time Malo has composed songs for one of his solo works since his first effort, "Today" in 2001. (His other albums feature cover tunes written the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Roger Miller.) Malo is known for his blustery, operatic delivery that sounds like Enrico Caruso with a tarantula in his pants. Therein lies the problem. You ever notice how Bono can't get through a song without raising his voice to gut-busting proportions? Malo has the same vocal ambitiousness; he'll occasionally showcase his velvety pipes in breathtaking fashion, then in the next second he sounds like a five alarm fire siren stuck on overload. He's got good pipes, but he also wants everyone on the other side of the globe to know it.
"Moonlight Kiss" is the one salvageable track of the album. It begins like a 60s Vegas show tune, with a gathering of chorus boys playing give and take with Malo's sly vocal. There's a swaggering trumpet solo by Jamerson Sevits straight out of Mexicali, but the campy arrangement works. Why? No megawatt assault by Malo, who keeps his uvula from wagging like a dinner bell.
McTigue is back to phoning in a drum beat and Malo's voice quivers like Roy Orbison after a three day bender in "Something Tells Me." Steve Berlin provides a calming carpet on the B3 and Malo whips out a competent Duane Eddy accompaniment on guitar, but this is retro wretch: "Something tells me you don't ever know, what I'm feeling somehow doesn't show. Maybe when you're lying next to me, maybe you are just too close to me." Yes, Raul, I don't like being this close to you at all.
"Hello Again" is a prime example of Malo gone fire siren. His el explosivo voice hits you between the ears like a rampant 2 x 4 flying off the back of a lumber truck. He starts a few octaves higher than he has a right to, and then punishes the listener by reaching levels that will have the inhabitants of the local kennel begging for euthanasia.
Grab your girl (or guy), clutch them closely and sway your way across the dance floor. "Ready For My Lovin'" is a seamy, slow dance, and a nearly passable track. When Malo's voice stays in a lower register, his airy full lungs bring to mind the sexy suave tones of Chris Isaak. He inevitably breaks your heart as he struggles with the high notes, the air issuing from his lungs like deadly dioxide from a whoopee cushion. But he's pretty nifty at bending the strings in a twangy James Burton manner.
In "Crying For You" Malo puts his emotion in his voice, rather than his lungs, although he sings with the stability of a bowl of Jell-O balancing on a three legged table. It's the sincerity of his performance, the echoey sadness of his guitar that makes this one listenable for more than thirty seconds. That and it's slight resemblance to "Take My Hand," one of Los Lobos' stand out ballads.
"You Always Win" is country western schmaltz that should have been buried with Hank Williams sequined jump suit, a shoo-be-doobey, good timey shuffle with Graves on campfire harmonica and Malo aping Patsy Cline. You can follow the bouncing meadow muffin and sing along if you like. In aiming for the charts, Malo has removed any sense of self or significance from his lyrics: "I know before we begin and all the results are in, baby you always win." Geez, bland poetry too, as if singing like a convict strapped to an electric chair set on fry wasn't enough. No, Raul, nobody wins.
You can't get through a Tex Mex album without someone reconstituting the late Doug Sahm's country western circus music and smacking it around like a piñata. Hey, Raul, I was influenced by Mike Harrison, but you won't hear me trying to imitate his intimidating growl. Having a one octave range, I'd sound ridiculous. Hope you get the message. "Lonely Hearts" has a touch of Sahm's "She's A Mover's" arrangement melded with Malo imitating Buck Owens. Unfortunately, the two styles mix like manure and lit gasoline. I will continue to compliment Malo on his playful, retro twang guitar playing, however. It's time for that instrumental album, Raul.
"One More Angel" finds Malo singing like one side of his mouth is sewn shut and he's trying to break the stitching. He hangs onto every note until it hurts. McTigue has finally come to life - too bad his garbage can drumming has little to do with the rest of the song. His bashing is abusive, but at least it keeps Malo from launching his nodes into the higher reaches like an angry V-2 rocket. There's an awful lot of strumming, chiming guitar, clomping cowbell, splashing cymbals and vibrating vocals going on here. This overcrowded mess will leave your guardian angel checking for his reservation in hell.
"Rosalie" begins with a thoughtful guitar/melodica background. The quiet lament goes well until Malo goes acrobatic. The throbbing in your skull will abate when Dane Bryant's melodica calms the atmosphere, but the unpleasant memory will always be there! Musically, this is a sad masterpiece. Vocally, it's just sad.
The Stray Cats go country western in "Haunting Me." You'll need a ghost buster after the first nostalgic, crooning verse. Now Malo has the temerity to double-track his torturous yapping, and for once, his usually tasty guitar lacks spirit.
Malo holds back for the first few lines of "So Beautiful," then he's back to raising his voice like Tarzan getting a hotfoot. Given the songs stark arrangement - piano, guitar and strings - it's never wise to hold a note for more than ten seconds if your voice can induce a cerebral hemorrhage. The only beautiful thing about this song is that it's the last one on a very bad album.
I might actually like Raul Malo if could modulate his vocal gear-switching to the point where I didn't get a headache. But after a dozen showy numbers with more vocal gymnastics than the Vienna Choir Boys in a blender, I was hoping I'd get lucky by being able to go back in time and reclaim the hour Raul Malo ripped from my life. No such luck.