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Jazzfest Update: Raul Malo brings out his “Spanish tinge”

May 4, 2013

Raul Malo, a Cuban-American from Miami who loved Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley as a kid, has spent much of his life trying to integrate Latin music and country music, often with glorious results. His best known vehicle has been the Mavericks, a group that scored five top-25 country singles on Billboard in the 1990s. The “Spanish Tinge,” as Jelly Roll Morton called it, was restrained on those records, but it was always there and may have limited the success of perhaps the decade’s finest male country singer.

The group broke up in 2004, but the three founding members (Malo, bassist/guitarist Robert Reynolds and drummer Paul Deakin) plus two members from 2004 (guitarist Eddie Perez and keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden) reunited last fall and in January released In Time, their first studio album in nearly 10 years. For this new project, Malo wrote or co-wrote all 14 songs and allowed the Latin side of his music to emerge more naturally. The album has already gone top-10 on the country charts and top-40 on the pop charts.

When the Mavericks played the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Friday, the Latin and country sides of the music seemed better integrated than ever. The five Mavericks were joined on stage by trumpet, tenor sax, stand-up bass, and button accordion. When they played an old hit like 1994’s “There Goes My Heart,” the implied “Spanish Tinge” became more explicit with bouncy
horn riffs and Tex-Mex accordion.

When the band tackled a new song such as “All Over Again,” written by Malo and NRBQ’s Al Anderson, the integration seemed inevitable, for the push-and-pull beat from the guitars, horns, and accordion proved as essential to the number as the anguished hillbilly lyric, “You know I’m weak and I can’t tell you no; why do you want to hurt me all over again?”

Wearing a white, straw cowboy hat and a dark goatee while shaking a pair of maracas like he knew what he was doing, Malo embodies the contradictions of many immigrants who come from Latin American farms and who are naturally drawn to American country music but have trouble finding a place there. For one wonderful hour on a muddy racetrack infield in New Orleans, that
place seemed obvious.