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Raul Malo Sinners & Saints Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

He manages to make downer sentiments sound rather cheerful.

Martin Longley 2011

On the opening title-track from this former Maverick's latest disc, it takes Malo two minutes before he opens his mouth to sing. It's a grand entrance, heralded by a rush of retro-kitsch Mariachi surf music, which just about sums up where the artist is at, nowadays. Lip-splitting trumpet, Farfisa-oid organ trots, and a skipping beat presage the high drama of Malo's entrance. The wind machine gently ruffles his hair and beard in front of a sunset Tijuana backdrop. A strategically-placed guitar solo hits, and the track closes with one last trumpet flourish. The song says it all, emphatically establishing the mood to follow.

Next up, Malo might get more into rock'n'roll with Living for Today, but the twangin' guitar remains the same, alongside some honky tonk/barrelhouse piano, spirited acoustic strumming and a backing vocal chorus, all emerging from a successfully swampy mix. The songs are full of involved percussion patterns, with gourd-scraping, maraca-rattling and syncopated handclaps a-go-go. Malo can veer towards sheer pop, but his jaunty delivery often conceals darker subject matter. He manages to make downer sentiments sound rather cheerful.

The album was recorded in Malo's home studio, but it still boasts a big-production sound a full decade on from the release of his solo debut. Malo states that this is his most personal and intimate project so far, and he's probably correct in that assessment. His current approach mixes rock'n'pop with Tex-Mex and Mex-Mex, but there's not much trace of the country music that was formerly a chief concern. Roy Orbison seizes the controls for the fourth song. As this Rodney Crowell ballad is titled 'Til I Gain Control Again, it seems that Malo is well aware of this recurring stylistic possession. Michael Guerra's accordion feature on Superstar has the feel of a Mexican-zydeco half-breed. Sombras is sung in Spanish: the twang is still mighty, the strings are tearful and Malo is busy carving out the new genre of sincere south-of-the-border melodrama. It's all delivered within a classic 40 minute album length. The perfect pop punch.

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