Musical styles simmer together happily in the melting pot of this ex-Maverick's output.
In the midst of what essentially was a dance party Thursday night at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, singer Raul Malo set down the twangy guitar he'd been strumming joyfully for an hour, dismissed the members of his five-piece band -- except for pianist Chris Tuttle -- and stood practically motionless at the mike.
Malo is widely regarded as one of the most gifted singers to emerge in the last two decades, yet he indulged in none of the hyperkinetics that are so much the rage among contemporary pop vocalists. Instead, he rendered the ballad So Beautiful," from his just- released solo album, Lucky One," with such piercing purity that this song of emotional renewal galvanized the crowd as much as any of the effervescent up- tempo numbers that dominated the show.
The song's lyrics aren't masterfully poetic, yet they're powerfully direct, and with his remarkable vocal technique, Malo stopped the show in the best sense of that term.
A few hours earlier, he sat on the poolside patio of the nearby hotel where he was staying while in the Southland on tour with Shelby Lynne, the Alabama firebrand who opened Thursday's concert with some gorgeously unfussy singing of her own.
To me, singing is like the Olympic high-diving competition," Malo, 43, observed between bites of salad when the conversation turned to American Idol" after he spotted the reality series' Randy Jackson strolling through the hotel's restaurant. In that event, the less splash, the better the score. But on 'Idol,' these guys are all doing cannonballs.
I wish they'd just pick three singers and then follow them week to week as they try to learn what to do," he said. That would make a far more interesting show."
Malo, the son of Cuban immigrants, grew up in the 1960s and '70s in Miami, reveling in the pan-American sounds that washed over him from radio, television and out of the city's many nightclubs. It turned him into a living, breathing testament to the wonders of the musical melting pot, in the '90s fronting the eclectic country-rock band the Mavericks and for most of this decade as a solo act.
My grandfather would drive me around and we'd have the radio on, and there'd be a song by Frank Sinatra followed by the Rolling Stones and then Ray Charles," he said, his eyes sparkling at the memory. I was a kid; I didn't think anything about it. That's just the way it was."
Lucky One" is steeped in that broad swath of pop and rock -- the title track puts a Spanish accent on Western twang, while Crying for You" includes a vocal ascent worthy of Roy Orbison, and the jangly rock ballad One More Angel" has Malo talking about surmounting tragic loss. The Rat Pack hipster swing of Moonlight Kiss" sits easily alongside the vintage R&B of Ready for My Lovin.'