Raul Malo: Sinners & Saints

RIYL: The Mavericks, Roy Orbison, Texas Tornadoes

51jgaIohSgL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1] Raul Malo is an awesomely gifted vocalist and musician, but his solo career has been long on quantity (seven albums in less than a decade) and short on quality control. Too often, his solo albums have given the impression that Malo’s years with the Mavericks wore him out – he’s been content to coast with covers projects, like 2006’s syrupy You’re Only Lonely or 2007’s country-focused After Hours, or specialty-market releases like The Nashville Acoustic Sessions and his Christmas album, Marshmallow World and Other Holiday Favorites. All of which have been fine, in their limited fashion, but nowhere near as exhilarating as those Mavericks records. Without a band to push him forward, it sounded like Malo was happy to keep things at a pleasant, undemanding drift – 2009’s Lucky One, which packed a dozen Malo originals and hearkened back to his days as one of country’s most exciting young performers, seemed like a pit stop between covers projects.

It’s a pleasant surprise, then, that he carries over some of that spirit with Sinners & Saints, a largely self-penned collection that Malo calls “as much of me as I’ve ever put on a record.” It’s brief – ten tracks and under 45 minutes – but its abbreviated length keeps Malo from indulging his weakness for drawn-out ballads, and the result is the loosest, most energetic studio album of his solo career. Recorded with a stellar supporting cast (including Augie Meyers and Shawn Sahm), Sinners highlights the breadth of Malo’s talents, with hints of pop, rock, country, and Tex-Mex in the mix – but it’s also a focused affair, an album where even the longest songs (like a six-minute cover of Rodney Crowell’s “‘Til I Gain Control Again”) feel lean and tightly arranged.

Raul Malo once seemed destined for superstardom, but his career lost momentum in the late ’90s, and Sinners & Saints probably isn’t going to change that. It does, however, prove that this once-prolific songwriter still has some gas left in the tank, as well as plenty of his old passion for playing in the borders between genres. The faithful will be pleased, and if you’ve got a little room in your musical diet for a restless troubadour with the voice of an angel, it just might make you a fan. (Fantasy 2010)

Raul Malo MySpace page


Ozomatli: Fire Away

RIYL: Santana, Spearhead, Los Lobos

The Los Angeles culture-mashers are mixing up a vibrant stew on their fifth full-length LP, with producer Tony Berg (Aimee Mann, Pete Yorn) at the helm for a festive and diverse affair. Berg describes working with the band as “like visiting seven continents simultaneously” and the album sessions as having captured “the spirit of the band’s live show without being a live album.”

It’s hard to quantify Ozomatli in any particular genre since they mix up a musical collision of rock, funk, samba, salsa, hip-hop, cumbia, merengue, reggae and more. Tunes like “Are You Ready,” “45” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” all surge with an upbeat party-rock flavor, mixing horns with big grooves and funky accents. Lead single “It’s Only Paper” recalls the ’90s barrio-pop vibe of Sublime, with catchy hooks and some social commentary on “the choices that you make… They say money is to blame, but it’s only paper.”

“Elysian Persuasion” cranks it up another notch with a hard-hitting jam and rocking beat that conjures a high-energy sound for one of the album’s best tunes. “Gay Vatos in Love” switches gears for a potentially controversial, jazzy R&B number. There are no gay members in the band, but the song is statement that every person should “have the right to choose who and how they love one another,” according to the band. This all-inclusive attitude, combined with the band’s diverse musical background, may well explain why Ozomatli has been sent around the world on a series of musical missions from the U.S. State Department.

“Malagasy Shock” recounts one such adventure where singer/guitarist Raul Pacheco had a self-described near-death experience when he was electrocuted onstage during the band’s State Department trip to Madagascar. Pacheco says the tune is about being “shocked into realizing life must be lived with a profoundly energetic fervor.” Such a fervor is what infuses much of the album. Another highlight is “Nadas Por Free,” an upbeat song that uses “Spanglish” to mix lyrics from both English and Spanish. “It’s Only Time” and “Love Comes Down” have the band amping down for a couple of ballads with a resplendent flavor that would fit nicely with a Pacific Ocean sunset.

Fire Away perhaps lacks that one particularly memorable breakthrough song, but is a strong overall outing that should give the band plenty of new material to keep their live dance parties going. (Mercer Street 2010)

Ozomatli MySpace page


Santana: Supernatural, Legacy Edition

RIYL: Eric Clapton, Dave Mathews Band, Ozomatli

This Legacy Edition re-release of Santana’s 1999 smash-hit, Grammy Award-winning Album of the Year ups the ante by remastering the original album and adding a second disc of bonus tracks that should delight any fan of the original. The bonus disc has outtakes, remixes and unreleased material with several of the same guests from the original album. There’s also a 24-page booklet with rare photos and a 2,000 word essay by Hal Miller on the album’s creation and significance.

The remastered original sounds great, with Santana’s hot, melty licks singing through the mix of warm bass, dynamic percussion, horns, vocals – the guitar legend is a Jedi Master at weaving his lines into a song without stepping on anyone else. Songs like “Put your Lights On” with Everlast and “Smooth” with Rob Thomas received so much airplay that some people may never want to hear them again. But this shouldn’t overshadow the other great tracks on here.

“(Da Le) Yaleo” features Santana wailing at his best, no pop restriction here. “Love of My Life” with Dave Matthews and Carter Beauford is a soulful gem that makes you wish DMB would add a lead guitarist. For those that don’t care for Matchbox 20, “Africa Bamba” is a beautiful track that is truly smooth, without the pop sheen. Lauren Hill & Cee-Lo help Santana explore hip-hop flavor on “Do You Like the Way,” but it’s “Maria Maria” with the Product G&B that really has classic staying power. With its catchy hooks, soulful vocals and mix of both acoustic and electric virtuoso guitar, it’s no surprise that this tune is the one that’s still a mainstay in Santana’s live repertoire. “Wishing It Was” with Eagle-Eye Cherry is another tune that continues to resonate with deeper substance than the bigger radio hits, with its contemplative lyrics and memorable licks. Underrated closer “The Calling” is an epic blues with Santana and Eric Clapton trading licks on a great finale.

One of the highlights of the bonus disc is “The Calling Jam,” also featuring Clapton, and one of seven previously unreleased tracks out of the 11 on the disc. A cover of Cuban band Irakere’s “Bacalao Con Pan” has smoking leads in a Latin rock setting, while the single “Angel Love (Come For Me)” features a horn section and Santana playing sweet leads behind the vocals. This is something most guitarists don’t know how to do. They should listen to Carlos to learn. “Rain Down on Me” with Dave Matthews and Carter Beauford might even be a better song than their collaboration on “Love of My Life,” with Dave singing in a bluesier vibe that resonates well with Santana’s guitar. “Exodus/Get Up Stand Up” is a hot tribute to Bob Marley, while a cover of Lighthouse’s 1971 hit “One Fine Morning” is another high-energy winner. “Maria Maria (Pumpin’ Dolls Club Mix)” provides an alternate dance-oriented approach, while “Corazon Espinado (Spanish Dance Remix)” offers another take on the original album track with Mana.

There’s an uplifting spiritual vibe throughout both discs, along with a great diversity of material and some of Carlos’ most tasteful playing. All of which makes this set a definitive keeper. (Sony Legacy 2010)


SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: Ozomatli

At 8:00 it was over to the Auditorium Shores stage on beautiful Town Lake, which annually hosts a series of free shows during SXSW. The headliner here was LA’s Ozomatli, who entertained a huge crowd with their fusion of funk, latin rock, jazz, hip-hop and even a little bit of metal. An early song of tight funk paid tribute to the “City of Angels,” while another tune mined James Brown-style funk. It was a family-friendly atmosphere, as kids ran around playing with light sabers in the gorgeous setting as the Austin skyline loomed behind the stage. The highlight of the set occurred when a funky jam suddenly segued into a “Master of Puppets” tease that drove the crowd into a frenzy, with many bouncing up and down before the Metallica segue went back into a cumbia jam.



Josh Rouse: El Turista

RIYL: Paul Simon, your Brazilian grandfather’s record collection

When Josh Rouse moved to Spain a few years ago, nobody really expected things to change with regard to his music career. After all, there are many jobs that can be done from anywhere these days, with touring recording artist being one of them. But along the way, Rouse met and married a Spanish woman, singer Paz Suay, and along with learning to speak Spanish fluently, he also began writing songs in his new home’s language. That’s all well and good, but on his latest, El Turista, Rouse took things a step further by incorporating Brazilian and even Afro-Cuban flavors to the music, including a couple of covers. The entire set also reflects Rouse’s desire to lean toward jazz, without becoming a full-on jazz artist. The result? A mediocre experiment.

There is nothing wrong with trying new things, but the problem with Rouse’s recent musical offerings are that he’s been writing too much – causing his songs to become diluted, at least compared to the stuff he was making in his hometown of Nebraska and in Nashville. It’s not just that, but Rouse is better at the alt-pop thing than he is at the Bossa Nova sound he’s aspiring to, and El Turista is, well, it’s sleep-inducing. That said, dude still has a super smooth voice. The best track on here is the English-speaking “Lemon Tree,” and if you’re in the mood to drink a pina colada and start a conga line, put on the festive “Valencia.” However, if you were/are a fan of Rouse’s earlier material, you may want to run the other way before giving El Turista a listen. (Bedroom Classics/Nettwerk 2010)

Josh Rouse MySpace Page


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