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Raul Malo

Sinners & Saints – 2010 (Concord)

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

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CDs by Raul Malo

When The Mavericks made headway in country/rock circles a while back, the band's sweet hooks were only one-upped by the unique vocal delivery of Raul Malo. His part-Orbison prowess and feel made songs like O What A Thrill and What A Crying Shame simply shine.

But with The Mavericks calling it a day in 2003, Malo has steadily carved out an interesting and eclectic solo career. And his latest release - despite being only nine songs - proves he has a lot more left to give.

With the opening Tex-Mex horns giving way to a surf-guitar-meets-Spaghetti Western melody, Malo lets the first song (and title track) set the stage. Filled with dramatic weight in the vein of Gypsy Kings, the song bobs and weaves before Malo delivers his opening lines quite urgently. Living For Today tries to settle into a groove, but doesn't quite hit the mark for much of its five minutes.

Fortunately, that swinging party vibe Malo seems to churn out in his sleep kicks the album square in the proverbial backside with the gorgeous San Antonio Baby that sounds a bit like Nick Lowe. The same thing can be said for the party-starting Superstar, which definitely has a spring in its step. And in between he lovingly slows things down without missing a step for an old-school country cover of Rodney Crowell's Til I Gain Control Again.

Malo also works best in another non-party platform: the slow romantic material like the sweet, island-flavored Matter Much To You that glides along effortlessly as does the gorgeous closer Saint Behind The Glass. The biggest problem with the album is there should be more here because "Saints & Sinners" is a winner.