Record Review - 2 November 28 2001

It's always a welcome surprise when a longtime band member's solo effort turns out to be good. That it eschews his familiar genre is even rarer. Raul Malo, ex-frontman of the Mavericks, scores on all fronts with a disc more rooted in his Cuban-American heritage than his previous country efforts.

Malo's voice is versatile, bold and dramatic in the way of a Broadway or opera star. And when paired with a wall of Mexican horns, shifting rhythms and melodic hooks sunk into everything from samba, salsa and honky tonk to '60s pop, it's reminiscent of the big, broad records Johnny Cash or Marty Robbins made.

Though most of Malo's lyrics are about love both passionate and faded, the words aren't tired. The sheer happy-go-luckiness of the title track perfectly encapsulates the feelings of new love. And the first single, "Every Little Thing About You," with its tango-like backing, is the kind of sweeping romantic statement that makes women weak and men jealous (it helps to have a rose clenched between your teeth if you're going to try this at home).

Malo's duet with Shelby Lynne, a cover of "Takes Two to Tango," simply smolders. And Malo is equally adept at ballads — "Are We Almost There?" is a showstopper. You can envision him singing it mournfully under the spotlight on a '60s variety show, before segueing into the frenetic "I Said I Love You," with Tom Jones' dancers shimmying in the background.

A bonus track, "Since When," even recreates '30s jazz. Only "Let's Not Say Goodbye Anymore" falls flat with its overwroughtness. Today's four Spanish vocal numbers hold up as jaunty exotic sidetrips, where Malo's crack backing band lets loose, particularly on the majestic "Ocho Versos."

With the country career of Mavericks on permanent hiatus, Malo is putting all of his efforts into a solo career steeped in the Latin sounds of his youth. And if Today is any indication, no doubt there's a tomorrow on the way.

Raul Malo plays Wed., Dec. 5, at the Smith's Olde Bar.??