Raul Malo gets lucky

Dan MacIntosh, September 2006

Raul Malo's "You're Only Lonely" could have been titled "The Disc That Almost Never Was" because for a while there it didn't look like this one was going to see the light of day. Worse still, Malo's record label was teetering on the brink of extinction.

"The record was finished about a year ago," Malo explains. "We finished it last summer. It was supposed to come out in October of last year or somewhere thereabouts. And I think Sanctuary (Records) started to run into some financial problems. For a while there, it looked like they (Sanctuary) were gonna close shop. It looked like Sanctuary was no longer going to be a record label. So, there was all this talk about somebody else picking up the record, finding a home for it."

Delays caused Malo to play the uncomfortable waiting game. "I wasn't really off Sanctuary, so I couldn't go find another record deal," he elaborates. "And then if you were to sign another record deal, there's this record that's pending because...when is that going to come out? And is it going to come out when you do your next record? As you can imagine, it's not a really pleasant time."

Unlike other far unluckier albums, which get locked in the vaults for eternity, "You're Only Lonely" has a happy ending: It was released in late July.

"It looks like everything's in order now," Malo sighs. "They finally gave it a green light...I put a lot of effort into that record, and I'd hate for it not to be heard. I'm excited about (it). I loved working on that record. I loved making it. And I love playing the songs live."

The lead singer of the late Mavericks didn't just stand still while he was waiting for this record release dilemma to eventually resolve itself. In fact, he already has its follow up recorded and ready to go.

"We finished an album about a month ago," Malo says. "My bass player has a studio at his farm where he lives. We just went out there and made a record not really thinking about where it was going to land. We wanted to make a record of country standards and kind of do 'em our way. Because God forbid we do something straight up and down the middle of the road! It's just not going to happen! I'm such a big fan of all the old style...all the great songs that have been written in country music. Especially, you know just all the Hank Williams songs. All the Kris Kristofferson songs. Like, for example, we did 'Welcome to My World.' We did 'For the Good Times.' We recorded 'Crying Time.' We recorded 'Cold, Cold Heart.' We did 'Fool Such As I.'"

"But we recorded them as if Tony Bennett was making a country record," Malo adds. "We kind of jazzed them up a bit. We did different arrangements to them. Instead of fiddle, there's a clarinet. What happens is all these great songs that people are so used to hearing country versions of, they really sound different in a whole other light. They sound like they're pop standards."

"I think it's more of an album to showcase the point: 'Hey, you know all this music is for everybody. It's not just country music.' I think great music transcends genres and generations. And to hear these songs with these arrangements, it's a really cool project. Also, the way we recorded them...we recorded them all live, basically. There are no vocal fixes. There are no overdubs. The overdubs we did were on horn parts here or there."

"Everything else is all live, and everybody's in the same room. It just sounds like all our favorite records sound. I had so much fun making it, and I'm really excited for that one to come out. And it looks like it's going to come out on Vanguard."

On the day of the interview, Malo had not yet officially dubbed this release with its final title.

"I'll give you the working title that we're calling it because I think it's a pretty good working title," Malo volun- ' teers. "I'm not sure if it's going to stick. We're calling it 'Nashville After Hours,' and it's exactly what it sounds like. It's very smoky. It's very romantic. And they're straight up country songs. I think people will be pleasantly surprised with the record because we had a ball making it."

There are moments on the current "You're Only Lonely" that point directly forward to Malo's "Nashville After Hours" excursion. For example, Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground" has an unusual gospel feel during parts of it.

"We gave a bit of a gospel vibe to it," Malo says. "It seemed like it would work on that song. And when you're working with the kind of musicians we were working with, it just sort of lent itself to that treatment. I love that song. It's always been one of my favorites."

The keyword to "You're Only Lonely," if there must be one, is romance.

"The vibe on 'You're Only Lonely' was definitely a romantic record," Malo states. "I hate to describe my own stuff because I don't really know how to do it, and I often get it wrong. I kind of hear it as a very adult like record. It's kind of a grownup record. (Producer) Peter (Asher) wanted to make a singer's record; a record where the vocal is probably the most important thing on there, and the delivery of the vocal performance and the song are what's gonna draw you in."

"That's how Peter produces a record really. He just didn't get in the way of the vocals, which was an interesting way to work. I think that the vibe is definitely romantic. Open a bottle of wine, sit-down-and-listen-to kind of record."

"You're Only Lonely" is unique, in that it includes two different versions of the very same song.

"Peter thought 'Feels Like Home' would make a beautiful duet," Malo says. "And then some people thought, no, it should just be a solo version. But they loved the song. So there were two arguments going back forth, and I just said, 'Well, let's just put 'em both on the record. What does it matter?' It's certainly not the first time that's it's been done."

"I referenced an Andrea Bocelli record that came out a few years ago that came out with a song that was a duet, and one by itself. What the heck. Just put them on there. I personally like the duet. Certainly (performing) live we don't have duet partner, so I sing it solo. It's just another offering on there."

Malo's duet partner was none other than Martina McBride, whom he adores. "She's just a powerhouse. She truly just nailed it. It was great," Malo recalls.

Malo only co-wrote one of the songs on this new disc, so he must have a backlog of self-written material, right?

"I wrote a bunch of songs...I just finished producing an album for Rick Trevino on Warner," he says, when asked about his seeming songwriting dry spell. "I wrote a bunch of songs with him, and I enjoyed the process immensely. And I love writing music. But I've been wanting to...for this phase in my life...I'm really enjoying singing the most. More than writing. More than producing. More than anything else."

"I enjoyed writing, and I felt like sometimes there was something to say," he continues. "But more often, I had to write because we needed songs. Almost out of necessity. I feel like now I'm at a point where I've written enough songs, and I've gotten that out of the way. And if I ever want to write songs again, I will. I mean, I certainly still write. I have a few songs, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a backlog of material. Because that would imply that there's a lot. There's a few songs here and there. And I'm always writing. That's not to say that the next project here or there is going to be an original music record."

"I'm sure at one point I'll go, 'Okay, now it's time to say something and write about something.' There's certainly a lot going on in the world, and there's always inspiration somewhere. I take things as they come. I don't force the creative side to do anything it doesn't want to do. If I don't want to write a song, I don't force it. I'm enjoying singing. And it's what I really want to do, is sing songs. So I'm enjoying that for right now."

Malo, as most country fans know, was formerly with The Mavericks. But the way Malo talks about The Mavericks now, makes it sound like he's permanently put that part of his musical life behind him.

"I have officially quit the band," he states emphatically. "So I am no longer in The Mavericks. As far as making music with The Mavericks, that will be an impossibility. That's just not going to happen. But as far as them continuing on with someone else, perhaps. You'll have to ask them. It's amazing how people want to hang on to some things. They just don't want to let it go. I kind of laughed at all the hoopla that was made when The Mavericks stopped making music. I was, like, really? People care that much? It's a band. Life goes on. People like to hang on to something, and God bless."

"But I feel it's time to move on. I honestly think that bands should have a lifespan. And I think after five albums or six albums, bands need to quit. At the beginning, they're kind of horrible, yet there's something there. Then they get better. And then they make really brilliant records. And then it's down hill from there. And they should just stop."

"Of course, nobody's taking my advice because every time some band gets together, they make $120 billion. What do I know? But as far as making records, we had done all we were gonna do, and I wanted do some different things. And as long as you are a part of a band, it's hard to do those other things. There's never enough time, and nobody seems to wanna let you do those other things. It was time to put that to rest, and I certainly wanted a life outside of The Mavericks."

Malo's current direction shouldn't come as any surprise to Mavericks fans. Even then, he was stretching out to include plenty of material you wouldn't automatically label "country. "

"At times, we scratched our heads and we scared the hell out of the record label a bunch of times," he confesses. "I think if anything, I wish artists would do more of that. I wish artists would really be artists and scare the hell out of the record labels once in a while. And what I mean by that...I don't mean hold them at gunpoint. But actually tell them, 'No, this what we want to do, and this is how we're gonna do it and just sticks to their guns more."

Malo may no longer be Maverick (as in the band), but he hasn't lost a single ounce of maverick spirit.

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