Monday, August 25, 2008
This Christmas CD was a present from a member of my family but I'm still trying to figure out how she ordered it. On Christmas morning, the tag read "To Rob, From Maisey". Maisey is the oldest of our two cats.
Maisey probably saw my printed list of new Christmas releases from Randy's Rodeo before the holidays. Randy ranked this CD pretty high on his list and Amazon.com had an exclusive bonus track with this album. How Maisey ordered this CD I'll never know (insert your own "cat clicked on the mouse" joke here).
So who is Raul Malo?
Malo was born August 7, 1965 to Cuban parents in Miami, Florida. Raul started playing bass guitar in high school and soon found his way into several HS bands. In 1987, he made his first recording with a group called Basics. Their one song, "Paperheart" appeared on a promotional album entitled appropriately "Unsigned".
A few years later, Malo and a high school friend, Robert Reynolds, joined together to form their own country band, based on their mutual love for Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline. Paul Deakin, with experience in several progressive rock bands, became the drummer, and the group chose the name The Mavericks.
The group released their debut self-titled album in the fall of 1990 and grabbed the attention of many big labels, including MCA Records who signed the band in May 1991. They soon picked up David Lee Holt who became the lead guitarist for the band. This left Malo to concentrate on the songwriting and vocals.
MCA released From Hell To Paradise in 1992 and released five more albums for the band during the '90s. Hell to Paradise was critically acclaimed, but sold less than expected. Their follow up album What A Crying Shame was released in 1994, its title track reached the Top 40, the album went platinum by spring 1995, and won their first Academy of Country Music Award for Top Vocal Group.
Holt was replaced with Nick Kane as lead guitarist for the next releases. Two of the bands singles ("O What A Thrill" and "There Goes My Heart") charted within the Top 20. The band was getting more radio airplay and building a loyal fan base.
Everything was in place when their next album Music For All Occasions was released in 1995. The album went gold and spawned two more Top 20 hit singles ("Here Comes The Rain" and "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down"). The Mavericks eventually won both the Country Music Association & Academy Of Country Music Awards Top Vocal group in 1995, and picked up a Grammy for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group.
As Malo began to integrate Latin rhythms into his songwriting during the latter part of the '90s, the albums picked up more Havana influence, leaving the country rhythms in the shadows. The band became an eclectic mix of rockabilly, honky tonk, tejano, native Cuban, and country (sweet!).
However, this had an effect on their sales and radio airplay and their 1998 album Trampoline wasn't a huge success. The following year, they released "Super Colossal Hits Of The 90s", a "best-of" album that didn't help as well.
As the 21st century began, MCA released their final compilation "20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Mavericks" in 2001. A change was needed and the group traded labels - MCA to Universal Music Group with a drummer to be named later.
By this time, The Mavericks quit playing gigs together and there was no acrimony, no squabbling, no tirades in the press. Still on very friendly terms with his fellow bandmates, Malo decided the time was right to branch out for a solo career. Between 2001 and 2007, he released five albums that mixed country, Cuban, salsa, and even calypso music.
After learning all of this, I was eager to listen to a full blown Christmas album!
1.) Marshmallow World
If you close your eyes, you'd swear it was indeed Dean Martin singing. No strings, no chorus, just Raul and his boys playing it straight. A single up the middle and we're off and running.
2.) Not So Merry Christmas
With its well-executed Beatle-like ballad arrangement, this somber song isn't that somber. Nice tune!
3.) Jingle Bells
Raul does his best mash of Elvis and Sinatra on the vocals. Backed by the sharp band, this one's a definite ring-a-ding, thanka very much!
4.) Silent Night
Out front with an acoustic guitar, Malo handles the vocals nicely with the proper touches from the organ and chimes, and drums.
5.) White Christmas
Heyyyyy! Think of Peggy Lee's "Fever" beat, add some jazz flute, and Raul on the vocals! Doubtful Irving Berlin would have had a beef with this one.
6.) Santa Claus Is Back In Town
Slow, brassy, blues beat drives this one home. Malo's diversity with music styles is on full display!
7.) I'll Be Home For Christmas
A nice slow Christmas clarinet (aka Pete Fountain) makes this one warm and Christmasy. Very, very nice.
8.) Blue Christmas
With its rockabilly and vintage R&B flavor, this one's not blue at all. What puts it over the top is the band solo on vocals - outstanding!
9.) Silver Bells
A tango tempo to start (TANGO?) and alternate some swingin' Louis Prima breaks in the middle, and you get the standout track of the CD.
10.) Feliz Navidad
Tejano anyone? Malo and his crew go to town with this one! Nice stuff.
11.) Winter Wonderland
Armed with ukelele and his own pucker to whistle with, this 52 second version is the perfect way to end the CD.
12.) Blue Christmas (LIVE)
This is the Amazon.com only track. Not getting anything more or less - just a live version.
No bad versions, a plethora of song styles, and great vocals throughout, Malo has a great Christmas album on his resume now. I'm hoping down the road Raul will visit the Christmas genre again and give us his take on Christmas carols and perhaps some original Christmas tunes.
Not a bad selection from a housepet, no?