Raul Malo has a big voice, the kind that gets him compared to Roy Orbison and opera singers. His clear tenor instrument has won him many admirers, especially the distaff kind. I caught him perform at one show in Austin where the late Governor Ann Richards, model Jerry Hall, and singer Rachel Fuller all squealed like schoolgirls in delight at his manly vocalizations.
Malo never rushes his vocals, even when the music moves at a fast tempo. He doesn’t even start singing on the opening title song until after more than two minutes of Mariachi-style horn blowing to introduce the mood. This creates a sense of passion. He wrings out every soulful drop on every track. Stylistically, this new album, Sinners and Saints is all over the place. Malo’s big voice anchors down the record whether he’s singing a classic Spanish love song (“Sombras”), a stomping Tex-Mex rocker (“San Antonio Baby”), a funky, laid back ballad (“Staying Here”) or a twangy country song (Rodney Crowell’s “’Til I Gain Control Again”). When he does open his mouth, Malo puts his vocals front and center to be heard.
Malo recorded the album at his home studio in Nashville and then finished the production at Ray Benson’s Bismeaux Studios in Austin. Malos also plays guitar, bass, drums, percussion, synthesizer, piano, Mellotron, tron violin, requinot, and ukulele. He wrote the bulk of the nine tracks and added three fine covers that complement the homemade material. Together, the album presents a coherent world view that says more about present day life than a thousand Sunday sermons, newspaper editorials, and radio talk show broadcasts combined, and it does so with beautiful melodies and compelling musicality.
As the title of the album suggests, Malo knows the world is full of Sinners and Saints. He also understands that there will always be more transgressors than angels, and that’s a good thing in terms of what people usually intend these words to mean. Sinners are passionate people who follow their hearts and desires. Malo knows he is one and warns, “If it happened to me/it can happen to you” as he tells the listener the importance of not judging others.
This has strong implications. Malo wants to enjoy life for the moment, as he spells out in “Living for Today”. Sung to an infectious party vibe, Malo advocates forgetting past grievances, political entanglements, religious hang-ups and whatever other intellectual concerns that block one from being in the moment and tells us to just chill and enjoy our existence. Malo really doesn’t care what anybody else thinks of his philosophy, as he spells it out later in “Matter Much to You” to a soft shuffling beat. He preaches tolerance and an open mind. That’s an important message. Malo may not be a saint, but he offers a divine communication. He may be no angel, but he has the voice of one.