Who is the tall dark stranger there?
There is nothing actually the matter with the new Raul Malo solo CD. The ex-Maverick is in fine voice. He belts out the 12 cover tunes (11 actually, as he does two versions of Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home”—one a duet with country singer Martina McBride) with strong operatic inflections. The song selection includes an impressive array of material from different genres. Malo takes on outlaw country (Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”), rhythm and blues (Etta James’ signature tune “At Last”), ‘60s rock (the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me”), and other gems written and/or recorded by such talents as the Everly Brothers, Ron Sexsmith and Harry Nilsson. Peter Asher’s production showcases Malo’s rich baritone and provides a lush, smooth background. You’re Only Lonely has the makings of a great record, but the truth is, something is missing. While this is not a bad record, and a few cuts are very good, the results are more dream-inducing than dreamy. One would be more likely to take it to bed to fight insomnia than to make love with another person. And that’s a shame, because Malo possesses a wonderful voice. One expects great things from the man.
Perhaps the problem results from the preponderance of ballads and leisurely moving tunes. While these songs can prove tonic in small doses, it’s just plan wearying over the length of an entire album. Malo mostly takes the material from their original contexts and makes them his own by slowing down the pace and over-singing and/or chewing the lyrics. Sometimes this creates a distinctive and pleasurable result. At one point on Nilsson’s lighthearted ode to memory, “Remember”, Malo playfully stretches the word “dream” into a 10-second warble that fades gently into a lilting piano solo. It’s sweet and beautiful, like a piece of personal nostalgia. But Malo’s rendition of the Everly Brother’s weeper, “So Sad”, just gets more maudlin by dawdling with the tempo. The track lasts for well over four minutes, which may be twice as long as the premier recording. Malo would have been better off speeding things up and punching out the vocals. Producer Asher, who famously helped make some great Linda Ronstadt records that include her successful cover of the Everly Brothers “When Will I Be Loved?” should know this. Asher had Ronstadt sing loud and hard. Everything here is soft and easy.
Critics and fans frequently compare Malo’s vocals to that of Roy Orbison, and Malo purposely invokes comparisons to the Big O on the title cut, “You’re Only Lonely”. The J.D. Souther penned composition closely resembles Orbison’s classic tune “Only the Lonely”. Malo’s inflections and his holding of the long vowel sounds for emphasis (“Ooooon-ly looooone-ly) highlight how much he and Orbison share in common. While the track has merit due to Malo’s mellifluous voice, one has to wonder why Malo just doesn’t cover the Orbison songbook. It seems like such an obvious move that one assumes Malo doesn’t do it just for that reason, as if he was afraid of being accused of not taking any risks. Someone should tell him the hard way is not always the best way.
Considering Malo’s country roots in the Mavericks, there are surprisingly few country music flourishes on the disc. Only two songs feature a pedal steel guitar (the illustrious Dan Dugmore) and there is not a fiddle, banjo, or mandolin to be found. Even Nelson’s “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground” has a soulful edge due to the prominence of the organ as the lead instrument, instead of a country vibe. Malo’s rendition shares more in common with Al Green’s Memphis sound than anything Willie ever recorded. One surmises that Malo is angling for the older, sophisticated crowd rather than a younger, rural fan base. Even the cover art features a cityscape of tall buildings. Malo’s got the chops to make it big with a large adult urban audience, but most likely; this won’t be the disc to take him there.
Raul Malo - CMT Greatest Love Songs