The hard part of being a musician in love is choosing between making music and making love. One wins at the expense of the other.
If you're lucky, like Jeff and Christine Maldonado, you'll never have to make that choice. For the Hollywood-based singer/songwriter couple, music and love are like blinks and eyelashes. It's almost impossible to determine where one stops and the other begins because both are integral to their ability to see the world clearly.
The Maldonados have trudged through the local music scene as a folk-Americana duo for the past nine years, delivering their acoustic music everywhere from Lincoln Road to the outside of Aventura Mall. Whether they were busking or working paying gigs, their musical odyssey has been bathed in humility and hard work, qualities that echo from their fingertips every time Jeff strums his guitar or Christine strikes her djembe drum.
Given the amount of time the Maldonados spend in each other's company, you'd think their spark might fade. Yet the synergy they exhibit on- and offstage says that nothing could be further from the truth.
"Performing with her has been amazing," says Jeff, who is 37. "Before being married, we're best friends. Before being in a band together, we're best friends. It's like we're two halves of one thing: Our brains are locked. We get into arguments, sure. But we're doing what we love, and every time I perform, I'm sitting next to my wife. It's a great feeling."
For years, the Maldonados have performed under the name the Providence, but they're in a period of transition now. The smart love songs and acoustic ballads are still part of their repertoire, but so is a lot more material. They've beefed up, to a six-piece electric band. Their new album, Light of Life, will be released this weekend under a new name: The American Poets. But don't expect Ginsberg and verse when you pop in the CD.
"None of us are actually poets," the 32-year-old Christine says, laughing. "Not in the traditional sense. And we're not calling ourselves 'poets'..." Really, all humans are poets, she says, "and we're all writing our own stories every day — so that's where the name comes from."
The change of names is also the result of the discovery by the Maldonados' attorney that several other bands were out there calling themselves the Providence and the Maldonados' desire to avoid confusion once they blow up bigger than the Beatles. Don't laugh: With a disc as well-crafted and honest as Light of Life, it could happen. Their bared souls are buoyed by fellow Poets Orlando Machado on drums, Jon Dadurka on bass, Selcuk Cingi on rhythm guitar, and Jon Rose on keyboards. The band sound is so tight that new listeners will find it hard to imagine the Maldonados were just a duo once. It's like the difference between black-and-white and color.
"We've definitely evolved," Jeff says. On their first album, 1999's Blue, "the whole thing was acoustic; the sonic arrangement was basic. This one, we got to make each song feel like a mini-movie. There are strings, drums, distorted guitars — the whole sound is different."
While the Maldonados seem as if they've enjoyed a relatively smooth road along their musical journey, that doesn't mean they haven't had to overcome peril. When they first started working on Light of Life in 2005, the couple spent close to a year recording the album and encountered a horror story they'll never forget. During numerous recording sessions in a studio they both refuse to name, Jeff and Christine poured their hearts into song after song without actually owning the masters to any of their recorded material. When things went awry with the owners of the studio and the Maldonados chose to find another venue, they were forced to pay a whopping $4,000 just to buy back their own songs.
"We were way too trusting in that situation," Christine says. "But everything happens for a reason, and that experience is what really propelled us into thinking that we can do this ourselves."
For her part, Christine wrote the lion's share of Light of Life, and it's a talent she apparently inherited. She's the granddaughter of Al Jacobs, a songwriter in the 1950s and '60s whose material was recorded by Doris Day, Eddie Fisher, and the Manhattans. The Poets cover his song "Hurt" on the new album, breathing jazzy life into it.
"There's a lot of good material to work with here," says Rose, who also plays keyboards with Jon Secada. "It's a really good project to be a part of."
The band members have been together for only a month and a half, but they've known each other on the local scene for years, which was evident at a recent rehearsal at Machado's house, where they laughed and joked with one another. "It's good to get in on an original project in the beginning," Cingi says. "I don't think any of us feel like fill-in musicians."
Still, the album-release party this Saturday will mark the first time all six Poets will perform together in public. For Jeff and Christine, it's another marker on a long road. They made the new album themselves, financing it with donations. "We just started walking around Hollywood, going into businesses and telling them what we wanted to do," Jeff explains. They netted $2,600 that way, he says. In return, the sponsoring businesses will get links on the band's website and display space at the release bash.
"We want it to just be a big party," Christine says. "We want everyone to hang out, have a good time, and then after a while, we'll get up there and play and let it all out. It's been a long time coming... We're ready for everyone to finally hear what we've been up to."