Music Scene: Malo takes do-it-yourself approach on new CD
For his latest album, Raul Malo tried something different: He produced it himself. Not coincidentally, “Sinners & Saints,” released two weeks ago on Fantasy Records, addresses Malo’s Cuban heritage and the origins of his musical roots better than all his previous releases.
The former leader of The Mavericks is well into his solo career, but he had always used record producers to fashion his albums. Malo, 45, found being in charge to be challenging.
“I did enjoy producing,” said Malo, while on tour last week. “It was a lot of work, and the toughest part was maintaining some objectivity. I missed not having someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who’d tell you when you jumped the shark. At a certain point, I just decided to try and make as honest a record as I can, and make it as unfiltered as possible.”
The best example of that iconoclastic approach is the title cut, a delightful Cuban-influenced tune that showcases Malo’s guitar skills and leaves his world-class baritone silent for the first 90 seconds.
“I did that on purpose,” Malo said.
“To me, the album always sounded like it needed an instrumental intro. The trumpet at the beginning is an accident. We were recording in my home, and I had an old ribbon mike set up in the kitchen, and Jameson Sevits, the trumpeter, was just warming up. I heard him and thought it was perfect, so we extended the song even more with his warm-up.
Malo was so exacting in his research that he even consulted his mother about his musical tastes as a child. He even dug out his old vinyl records.
“My mom told me I had heard a lot of memento music,” Malo said. “That’s a type of folk song, with improvised stories, where the guitar creates all the rhythm. . . . I went back and listened to those records, and began looking for a way to play my classical, gut-string guitar.”
Malo also went back to his Mavericks days, revisiting the group’s affinity for Texas rock ’n’ roll, and all its disparate ingredients.
“When the Mavericks started out, a lot of the news stories about the band mentioned the Sir Douglas Quintet, and when they mentioned my singing, (they) compared me to Doug Sahm,” Malo said. “I guess by osmosis we became pals after I met Doug at the Grammy (Awards) one year.
“I had also been friends with Augie (Meyers, the organist for the Quintet) for years,” said Malo. “We hadn’t been in touch for awhile, but he called and asked me to come down and sing on his new record. We re-connected, and when I began my own album, it was a no-brainer to get Augie to play on my record.”
Among the Malo originals on the new album are two covers: Rodney Crowell’s heartbreaking “‘Til I Gain Control Again,” and Los Lobos’ “Saint Behind the Glass.”
“Those are simply some of my favorite songs that I’d never had a chance to record before,” said Malo. “I had always wanted to record a Los Lobos song. And, in this case, I wanted to find an ending to the record, a final chapter. I see my albums as similar to books, with each song a chapter. I just didn’t have any of my own tunes that seemed to fit, so I began looking through my favorite songs.”
Among Malo’s original songs, “Living for Today” stands out for its view of contemporary life in America, “filled with doubt and fear,” said Malo, who normally tries to steer clear of politics.
“I’ve never shied away from my own politics, but first and foremost I think musicians should entertain,” Malo said. “But the way things have gone the past couple years, I can’t keep quiet.”
You can hear Malo and his band when they stop by Johnny D’s in Somerville, Mass., on Wednesday, and the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass., on Thursday.
Jay N. Miller covers music on the South Shore and Boston. If you have information or ideas send it by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, “Attn: Music Scene” in the subject line.