On Raul Malo’s upcoming album, out September 28 on Fantasy Records, he’s bringing with him a realization he’s come to over the years. “I think a lot of us pretend to be in the black or the white and live in absolute, but I don’t think life is that simple” Malo said. “Life is far more complex and interesting than just to deal in absolute.” It’s an idea that pervades the record down to the last track.
The album is called Sinners & Saints. Malo recorded the majority of it at his home studio in Nashville, luckily before the city flooded in May, damaging his house and destroying many of his guitars and equipment.
“You’re raised a certain way,” he continues, “and you’re supposed to believe these things are absolute truth. As you get older you realize that there’s no absolute truth.” He calls it a reconciliation between the intellect, heart and spirit.
Though, if there’s anything that can stand close to being an absolute, it’s that self-producing an album is a lot work. Malo, who fronted the alt-country group the Mavericks in the 90s, was involved in just about every aspect of the creation of Sinners & Saints, down to tracking instruments in his home studio.
“The good thing is that you can tinker with it to your heart’s content, and the bad thing is that you can tinker to your heart’s content,” Malo said of the process that eventually lead him to Austin, Texas, seeking the sounds of friends like Augie Meyers of the Texas Tornados. “I wanted this record to be a very personal statement about what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling and about where I am musically at this point, and I think that this record shows that,” he said.
To begin with, the ability to do said tinkering stems from Malo’s more recent solo pursuits. The Mavericks saw numerous singles make the country charts and picked up several Grammys before disbanding early in the 2000s.
Life post-Mavericks has plenty of gray areas of its own. “There’s one thing about not having a big, popular hit record, is that you can pretty much do whatever you want, and when you’re having popular hit records, that’s all anybody wants you to do” Malo said.
“I feel like I have the creative license and freedom, and I enjoy that. It’s ironic because your popular records feed a lot of people, but it’s not always the most interesting music, to say the least,” he said.
Sinners & Saints definitely differs from the Mavericks era, whether it’s the inclusion of songs like “Living for Today,” a commentary the fast-paced, short sighted, tech culture of the modern day, or “Sombras,” a Spanish love song, originally sung by Libertad Lamarque in 1943. “Lyrically I think fits the theme of the album, again dealing with that duality,” Malo said of the latter, “Is she a saint, or is she a sinner? Maybe a little bit of both, probably.”
The album has it’s bouts of surf guitar sounds and flashes of flamenco. The title track, for example, falls somewhere between mournful Spanish horns and Dick Dale– and it’s nearly two minutes before Malo actually starts singing. In what he sees as an age of dwindling attention spans and a proclivity toward the Shuffle feature, the extended intro was a point to make. “It’s my own little defiant thing,” Malo said, “I’m perfectly aware that people can just skip right over it, but if you can get somebody to actually sit down and listen to an album, they might actually enjoy it.”