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Raul Malo spread the holiday cheer

The Paradise, Boston, December 5, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Tis the season for good cheer, and Raul Malo supplied plenty of that and more during what he hopes will become an annual holiday tour.

Malo, former lead singer of The Mavericks, may not have played before a sizable crowd - maybe 200 people at most - but that did not deter him from supplying lots of good music ranging from loungey, jazzy sounds (a very off-handed "Jingle Bells," which was nothing like you'd heard before) to blues to Roy Orbison-style country.

The stylings of Malo live should be no surprise given his recent track record. He pushes the musical envelope on his holiday disc, "Marshmellow World & Other Holiday Favorites." The title alone makes it clear that this is not tried and true Christmas music.

Malo, instead, puts his own take on holiday favorites and not so well known songs. He started off the 100-minute show with the title track, a goofy title, but the song is just fine.

He has an easy going vocal style, but make no mistake, - there's a lot of timbre and resonance in his vocal delivery. He is comfortable in any style, getting jazzy on "White Christmas" and hitting the blues on "Blue Christmas."

Malo is aided by a very fine backing band. Veteran Tom Lewis set the beat, but certainly knows not to overdo it. Ephraim Owens was particularly strong on trumpet, seemingly always adding just the right touch. Keyboardist Robert Chevrier also added the appropriate spark when needed. The bottom line was that if Malo and company would not make you move and put you in a good mood, it's not clear what would.

After about four songs of holiday greetings, Malo announced, "That concludes the holiday portion of the show." That actually wasn't the case, fortunately, but it did provide Malo with the chance to play a bunch of his other material.

He turned in a fine reading of "It Only Hurts When I Cry," a Dwight Yoakam song with Chevrier standing out.

He didn't shy away from The Mavericks, playing their hit "Dance the Night Away."

He did a solo turn on Gram Parsons's "Hot Burrito #1" from 2004's "The Nashville Acoustic Sessions" as well, changing moods and tones.

The night seemed about done after an encore of three songs, including The Mavericks's "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down," but Malo et al did not even bother leaving the stage, clearly pleased with the enthusiastic response enough to offer a second, seemingly unplanned encore.

And with that Malo left some more of that fine holiday spirit on the stage - "Blue Christmas" and the bouncy, bilingual "Feliz Navidad."