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)

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