The Mavericks were arguably the most unlikely band ever to emerge from South Florida. Led by a Cuban-American with a love for classic country music and an appreciation for the traditional sounds borne by his Hispanic heritage, the Mavs gained a rabid following in a place where Americana was not the norm.
Regardless, singer, songwriter and front man Raul Malo has seen his personal fortunes skyrocket ever since, both solo and in the company of Los Super Seven and various other ad-hoc combinations. With a deep baritone that combines the pathos of Roy Orbison, the sneer of Elvis Presley, and the quiet dignity of Johnny Cash, he's become a singer for all seasons, equally adept at a cocktail croon, sassy salsa, a rockabilly rave-up, or simply a heartbreaking ballad.
So while it may not have been as earth shattering an announcement as the Beatles opting to reunite (no matter that two of the original four are no longer with us), or, even more miraculously, congress deciding to get along, the band's decision to reconvene a couple of years ago was decidedly unexpected. The surprise wasn't the result of Malo's solo success -- even though his stock was soaring -- but more specifically, the comments he shared with yours truly a couple of years ago about the release of Lucky One, one of half a dozen individual efforts he released in the past decade.
"Honestly, I don't miss the Mavericks," he remarked at the time. "The Mavericks are a bittersweet memory for me. There are a lot of great memories and there are also a lot of shit memories. And things didn't end so happily. It's not like we're all great friends. It ended in ugly lawsuits that cost me a lot of money, and it caused a lot of pain and suffering for my family and my kids. And it was all needless and it was all pointless. So I'm honestly glad it's over."
Ouch. Raul was obviously over the band at that point, and his bitter barbs appeared to be coming straight from the heart, if not his head. I understood, because the Mavericks and I went way back. I not only wrote the liner notes for their eponymous debut, but I very clearly recall having lunch with Raul and Rich Ulloa of Y&T Records in Coconut Grove and listening intently as Raul shared his dreams about the future. I also remember when I taught an adult education class at a local high school and inviting Raul to come to my class where he graciously played an intimate acoustic set for the half dozen students in attendance.
Raul was always very friendly, even after fame came his way, and when we had our phone chat, there was little doubt in my mind that he was sharing his frustration in a very frank and honest way. His desire to put the Mavericks behind him was all too obvious. "We could have done the same record over and over, but I didn't want to do that," he insisted. "Even early on, when I didn't know exactly what I was doing, I knew I didn't want to do that."
Happily then, the band's new album, the aptly named In Time, is anything but a rehash. While the signature elements remain intact -- the breathless intimacy, the swooning South of the border boleros, the rich, romantic balladry, and, as always, the band's knack to swing, sway and serenade -- the songs also have a vintage sound.
Certain numbers, like "Back In Your Arms Again," "Born To Be Blue," and "That's Not My Name," make an instant impression, coming across like classics that have already stood the test of time. The ghosts of Roy, Elvis, Cash, and their brethren are etched in practically every note of these melodies, and it's a credit to the band -- comprised of original members Malo, bassist Robert Reynolds, and drummer Paul Deakin, and later recruits Eddie Perez on guitar and Jerry Dale McFadden on keys -- that they're still able to mesh so well.
In addition to the fact that Malo had a hand in writing all the songs and serving as the album's co-producer, he's never sung better. Witness his spiralling, gravity-defying baritone in "Forgive Me," and it's quite clear that despite any misgivings, he hasn't had to sacrifice his artistic integrity to make this music so memorable.
Here then is the lesson to be learned from all this. Let bygones be bygones, and allow the music to move forward.
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