Raul Malo

Sinners & Saints

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Raul Malo pushed himself with Sinners & Saints. He wrote five of the disc's nine tracks and included four covers that fit into his plan. He demoed them at his home studio in Nashville on electric guitar. He then took them to Bismeux Studio in Austin, TX. He played numerous instruments himself and enlisted the help of a stellar group of sidemen including Vox organ icon Augie Meyers (the Sir Douglas Quintet), guitarist Shawn Sahm (son of that band's legendary frontman, Doug Sahm), Jay Weaver, Chris Tuttle, and Austin's newest singing sensations the Trishas (Savannah Welch, Kelley Mickwee, Liz Foster, and Jamie Wilson). The sounds accumulated here emanate from the Latin sounds Malo heard growing up in Miami in the '60s and '70s, as well as his own love of surf, Tex-Mex, and rockabilly. The album opens with the lonely Spanish-tinged sound of Jameson Sevits' trumpet introducing the title track. It's answered by twanging surf-laden Telecasters, organ, standup bass, and drums. Malo lets his baritone run wild: "When night comes/Thank the Lord of the day/There's not much I'm sure of/And yet still I pray...." The guitars, on whammy-bar stun, reverberate and shimmer, the organ swells into the red, and the drums clatter. "Living for Today" is a bluesy barroom country tune with Myers' Vox pulsing under the melody; the Trishas' soaring backing vocals add a gospel tinge. "San Antonio Baby" is a Tex-Mex surf polka fueled by Myers and Malo's organs, Weaver's Tele, and a killer accordion performance by Michael Guerra. Malo's reading of Los Lobos' "Saint Behind the Glass" is stellar. With Steve Fishell's Hawaiian steel guitar, Weaver's marimbula, and his own ukulele, organ, and percussion, he creates an entirely different, exotically dreamy feel. The cover of "Sombras," by José María Contursí and Francisco Lomuto, is in Spanish, and is a pure delight with Malo's strong, romantic vocal rising above a pedal steel, whammy-bar guitars, accordion, and standup bass. Everything here works beautifully -- even if the cover of Rodney Crowell's "'Til I Gain Control Again," while solid, doesn't quite rise to the level of the many other great performances. Sinners & Saints is the most confident, self-assured, and consistent recording Malo's done, and it showcases his own playing and songwriting at an entirely new level of skill.

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