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[Off The Record]
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Raul Malo
TODAY
(HIGHER OCTAVE)

There’s no country music on the solo debut of Raul Malo, the former leader of Nashville’s Mavericks, unless the country in question is Cuba. Or rather, the island as muse of a young generation of Cuban-Americans who see their native Miami not as a place of exile but as their bilingual, bicultural land of opportunity.

Malo has seized that opportunity with vigor. Inspired by his participation in the Los Lobos–led Latin-roots project, Los Super Seven ("Today" is produced by Malo and Lobos/Seven member Steve Berlin), he brings his gift — the most comfortably beautiful male voice in roots pop right now — to songs painted in vibrant tropical colors, some driven by energetic South Floridian salsa rhythms, others by direct, emotional melodies, all with a Latin tinge. The title song offers an exuberant resolution to the Mavericks’ best song, "Dance the Night Away" — in "Today," the girl comes back. There’s one cover, "It Takes Two To Tango," originally done by Ray Charles and Betty Carter; here Malo’s unexpected but expressive partner is Shelby Lynne. That four of the songs are in Spanish is both essential and beside the point: Malo’s instinctive phrasing and zesty spirit so aptly suit his first-rate material that superficial distinctions like language are rendered moot.

BY WAYNE ROBINS

Issue Date: November 8 - 15, 2001

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