Review: Raul Malo- Sinners & Saints
You never quite know what to expect from a new Raul Malo album. He can always be counted on to create music that is well worth listening to, but other than that he is extremely unpredictable, displaying an eclecticism not commonly seen since Neil Young in the ’80s. Since disbanding the Mavericks he has tried his hand at acoustic country-folk, lounge jazz, rock, pop standards, traditional Cuban backings, and old school Nashville sound stylings.
So I went into Sinners & Saints, his new album due out October 5th, expecting anything from classical compositions to bluegrass and discovered that he had made the most mature album of his career thus far while returning to his roots in a way. We all know about Malo’s incredible voice and the musical influences here are clearly artists like Doug Sahm and Los Lobos, but on this record he also focuses on lyrics like he never has before, delivering some highly introspective material and even bringing up a social issue at times.
This brief album (nine tracks in just over 40 minutes), begins with the ’60s garage-meets-flamenco title track. After a long instrumental intro featuring some lovely trumpet work and Dick Dale-like guitar, Malo enters setting a petulant mood through his melody and delivering some very respectable lyrics.
He gets into the subject of politics a little on the organ-heavy rocker “Living for Today” and then creates a sort of classic ’50s country across the border and on speed with “San Antonio Girl.” This track is very reminiscent of some of the early Mavericks records, but with much more of a Latin element than they ever had.
Next up Malo gives us a pensive traditional honky-tonk cover of Rodney Crowell’s “‘Til I Gain Control Again” and in case you have forgotten what a great songwriter Crowell is, this tune will definitely remind you. On the other hand, the next track “Staying Here” is a pure early ’70s singer-songwriter pop with melancholy lyrics, a wonderful vocal delivery, and a great electric guitar riff throughout.
“Superstar,” a fast-paced, rollicking number recorded with several members of the Texas Tornadoes, returns to the Tex-Mex flavor and the accordion solo in particular is really amazing. He stays in this vein for the next track, a slow and dark reading of the traditional Spanish ballad “Sombras,” that easily fits alongside the best on Los Lobos’ La Pistola y El Corazón, the album that first introduced me to this kind of music.
He follows this with “Matter Much to You,” an easy-going ballad in the spirit of the pop music of the early ’60s. This track also contains probably my favorite line on the album: “I’ve been told that I’m a sinner nearly all my life, but so is everyone I’ve ever known.”
The album ends with a mostly-acoustic cover of Los Lobos’ “Saint Behind the Glass.” I have always loved this tune and thought it to be one of the band’s most underrated, so I’m happy to see any cover of it, especially one as great as this one. Not that it equals the original by any means, but how could it?
In conclusion, I would probably check out any Raul Malo album and I really respect his versatility which is a rare thing in today’s music world. But with that said, I love seeing him get back to his roots and deliver something that actually fits into my genre of choice, as he has on his last two albums. I would highly recommend this one to anybody who loves roots rock or Tex-Mex and it may even be one of the best of the year in either genre.