Jazz, Soul, and More Mingle in Raul Midón’s ‘Bad Ass’ Sound
Reviewing Raul Midón’s “sensational set” in New York in 2008, The New York Times said the singer-songwriter “suggested a three-way fusion of Stevie Wonder, Bobby McFerrin and José Feliciano.”
So I ask Midón, who just released a new album, Bad Ass and Blind, how he describes his style of music. “Pop R&B soul with a jazz pedagogy,” he replies.
Midón says the new album’s title is apropos, because “I’m badass and blind.”
“I’ve spent years working on improving my guitar chops, vocal chops, etc.,” he adds. “I then taught myself how to engineer with software for the blind. I’m a competent engineer now. I wrote and produced my last two albums. I’ve worked really hard and on all cylinders. That’s why I’m tooting my own horn, so to speak.”
The New York Times did plenty of horn tooting in its 2008 article, calling Midón “a one-man band who turns a guitar into an orchestra and his voice into a chorus.” Midón’s guitar-playing “displayed a virtuosity that seemed effortless,” the newspaper wrote, and his “supple vocal phrasing echoed Mr. Wonder’s in some songs.”
Wonder, one of Midón’s idols, performed on Midón’s 2005 album State of Mind. Another celebrated soul singer, Bill Withers, was part of Midón’s 2014 album, Don’t Hesitate — his “first foray into producing and engineering.” Withers and Midón co-wrote a Spanish song titled “Mi Amigo Cubano.”
Midón says it’s difficult to name the favorite songs he has written, because “they’re all like my children.” But, he says, he is proud of “Libertad,” the opening track on Don’t Hesitate.
“It’s a piece about a young man being beaten at a border crossing trying to cross back into America. There’s audio of it, and it really moved me, so I had to write about it.”
Three well-known songs written by big rock artists are the favorite cover songs he recorded.
“I’ve covered The Who’s ‘I Can See For Miles’ (the final track on Don’t Hesitate) because it was a foray into harmony not normally heard in rock music. I just covered (Steve Miller’s) ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ (the closing track on Bad Ass and Blind), because it my first record purchase as a kid, and it has a simple but poignant message. I also like (the Beatles’) ‘Blackbird,’ which I did a re-harm on an early recording (2010’s Synthesis).”
Midón says the artist he admires most is Frank Zappa.
“I am a huge fan of excellence,” he says. “I admire how Zappa came up with his particular brand of rock-and-roll sophistication and sort of rude music. I’m fascinated by a guy who, while growing up, was influenced by Edgard Varèse and contemporary classical electronic music, and incorporated it into his music. That is part of who I am — someone who likes to incorporate eclecticism into his music.”
Midón says concerts by James Taylor and Paul Simon were the best ones he attended. A performance by the Latin band Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, though, influenced him most as a musician.
“I love Los Muñequitos de Matanzas — great Cuban musicians. From their very first recordings in 1956 to the present, Los Muñequitos have maintained a reputation as innovators of rumba and guaguancó.”