Keeping music alive by getting out of his comfort zone

For the creation of Raul Malo’s sonically diverse new album, Sinners & Saints, the crooner opted to forgo the assistance of just about everyone who had aided him in assembling his previous releases. Malo recorded much of the album at his home studio in Nashville, producing and playing most of the instruments himself. He then decamped to Bismeaux Studio in Austin, where he added contributions from artists such as the Trishas and the Texas Tornados’ Augie Meyers, Shawn Sahm and Michael Guerra. Malo admits that letting go of familiar collaborators and settings made him a little nervous. “I’ve woken up in the middle of the night in a cold, cold sweat, because working by myself has also taken me out of my comfort zone,” he says, “and I think it will take the listeners out of their comfort zones as well.”

Malo, who was born in Miami to Cuban parents, has always taken chances with his music. From his genre-blurring 1990s country band, the Mavericks, to his more pop- and Latin-oriented work in the 2000s, he has always been open to new influences and directions. The last decade was dominated by albums of smooth cover songs, in settings that ranged from stripped-down acoustic sessions to richly orchestrated pop; he even made an album of seasonal tunes, 2007’s Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites. But last year’s Lucky One saw him take up his songwriting pen once more, and Sinners & Saints finds him mixing his originals with those by artists like Los Lobos and Rodney Crowell.

Malo followed the example of his childhood heroes, the Beatles, in daring to be diverse on Sinners & Saints. Tex-Mex and Latin influences are laced throughout, but the only true communal thread among the songs is Malo’s own majestic baritone. “If it comes from me, there’s a reason the song is on there,” explains Malo. “If there’s a little variety on this record, well, I personally think that’s a good thing. I happen to love these sounds. The songs and the music come from a very different place for this album.”

Malo views himself not as simply another musician with a few more songs to send out into the marketplace. “Since I was younger, music has turned into my life,” he says. “But there are adults who haven’t heard a string quartet or a jazz ensemble before, and that’s really sad. My ultimate mission in life is to ensure that music stays alive.”

–Kelly Dearmore

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