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BBC – Music – Review of Raul Malo

Written by on October 20, 2020

Is Raul Malo taking the smooth classicism too far? Is he venturing beyond a quite possibly self-aware kitschiness, deep into the crimson heart of easy listening? The authentic, smoothly tonsured article? Is the selection of A Man Without Love (as popularised by Engelbert Humperdinck) just a step too far? Well, all right, Malo did play it back in his Mavericks days…

This live recording has the finesse of a carefully controlled studio session, whilst retaining the atmosphere that buzzed on the night, between audience and performers. Malo and his core quartet were joined by the Northern Sinfonia at The Sage in Gateshead, during July of 2011.

His soaring voice is always absolutely central, his guitar sometimes downed, whilst the keyboards, bass and drums are naturally subdued to merge discreetly into the grand spread of strings and horns. Michael Guerra’s accordion features prominently, upholding the expected south-of-the-border qualities. The sound is exquisite. The ladies are now throwing Malo their tear-stained handkerchiefs, where they used to cast their panties onto the stage. All artists naturally mature, it seems. Malo sings archetypal ballads in what is becoming an increasingly archetypal style. Beyond country, beyond Mexican and beyond rock’n’roll, gliding into a classic romantic zone.

The album’s towering song is Every Little Thing About You, a sweeping epic of grandiose melancholia, yearning on a gradually increasing curve of melodrama. At other times, the jaunty cheerfulness can be too much to take, the melodies over-stuffed with optimism. There’s a pensive reading of Bésame Mucho, but it’s chased by A Man Without Love. Once again, Moonlight Kiss is almost too chipper, but its schizoid exchange of lines is darker than we first assumed, as voices in Malo’s head take corporeal form in the backing chorus responses. There’s frequently a darker side to the glitter.

As the concert reaches its climax, the audience claps along, and the old Mavericks number Dance the Night Away precedes an equally rousing Guantanamera. The title track calms down to a minimalist conclusion, with Malo framed by just accordion and bass, gently fading into the darkness. He represents the epitome of emotional sincerity.

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