It’s hard to believe that, up to now, Raul Malo hasn’t released an album of original material since his 2001 solo debut. He’s kept himself busy recording a live album, a Christmas collection, and two releases devoted to old standards and country chestnuts. He even snuck in an acoustic album with several Nashville session players. That makes Lucky One a long overdue event.
Mr. Malo has always been one for the grand musical gesture and Lucky One overflows with emotion, crashing crescendos, and Malo’s booming tenor. As on his solo debut, Malo employs the talents of co-producer Steve Berlin, which might account for the vibrancy of this record. Opening with the title track it’s apparent that Malo has recaptured the effervescence that marked Today. Opening with “Lucky One” the tempo bounces as horns and twangy guitars compete for attention as they dance over an irresistible melody. From here we’re tossed into “Moonlight Kiss” with its silly call and response chorus, cowbell jangles, and happy-babble finale. It’s exactly the kind of old fashioned, bubbly song that drew devoted fans to the singer. By track 3, “Something Tells Me,” we’re taken back to the territory mapped by Malo’s work with The Mavericks. A Duane Eddy-inspired guitar leads us into the heartbroken lament. At times Malo seems to be channeling Roy Orbison as he warbles toward the high notes.
Malo does offer a couple of serious songs. “One More Angel” a song about the loss of a child steers away from being maudlin thanks to a lovely Latin rhythm. “Rosalie” also deals with mortality. But these moments are the exception. The heart is the key subject in these songs and Malo strikes a balance between the happy and helpless ones. “Haunting Me” is a good example of striking the balance within the song. Malo belts out a rocking rhythm while ruing a lackluster affair. Malo sometimes gives into the corniness of writing about the lovelorn but he’s brilliant at writing melodies that capture your ear.
Although Malo never seems to directly attempt to indulge in nostalgia there is something so retro about his songwriting, and performance. Maybe it’s the slow grinding organ and baritone sax arrangements of “Ready For My Lovin’” that puts one in mind of a 1959 pop hit. Maybe it’s the vibrato in Malo’s long held notes that feel like an early ‘60’s country cross-over ballad. On his last 2 recordings Malo covered songs by Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, and Kris Kristofferson and he admits that the experience influenced his songwriting. If you’re a fan of Jim Reeves or Patsy Cline recordings it’s a good bet you'll be drawn to the music of Raul Malo.