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Mavericks' Singer Raul Malo Restlessly Explores Genres

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

The Mavericks' last album, "In Time," was a hit with critics and fans, reminding listeners of the veteran group's mixture of country, folk, pop and Latin styles. Now, the band's back with a new collection called "Mono," and rock critic Ken Tucker says it goes even further in expanding the Maverick sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORIES WE COULD TELL")

THE MAVERICKS: (Singing) Before this night began, I was the kind of man who never shivered in his shoes. That was about to change 'cause there was nothing I could do - oh, yeah. As sure as night and day, they used to say, moves forth way too fast, the only thing this time is you're going to be my last - oh, yeah. So let me carry on...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: When The Mavericks first emerged in the early 1990s from Miami, Fla., they appeared on bills with punk and alternative bands. By 1994, they'd found a place on the country music charts, with hits like, "There Goes My Heart" and "What A Crying Shame," songs that owed as much to the early rock era sound of Roy Orbison and doo-wop singing as it did country music. You can hear some of what I'm talking about on a song on The Mavericks' new album, called "Pardon Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARDON ME")

THE MAVERICKS: (Singing) A steady run of one-night stands from one town to the next. How long has this been going on - can't even start to guess. Most of the time, I feel all right with the life I chose to lead. Tonight, I'm not myself at all, so pardon me.

TUCKER: From the start, the signature sound of The Mavericks is the voice of Raul Malo. Born in Miami to Cuban parents, the 49-year-old Malo has a big, rich voice. He belts out songs, phrasing lyrics with precise enunciation. Because this style has elements of pop crooning, Malo gravitated away from rock music. But it was really just market forces that pushed Malo and the band into the country genre. That's the place where this kind of singing is still commercially viable. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anything like a clear-cut country song on "Mono." The rhythms are all over the place, with a new hybrid emerging - Jamaican ska mixed with Tex-Mex swing on a song, such as "Waiting For The World To End."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO END")

THE MAVERICKS: (Singing) You're overstating, pontificating the meaning of your life, my friend. I'll tell you one thing, but not for nothing. We're all waiting for the world to end. And you may enter the gates of heaven while some are dying to be born again. It's intuition, not superstition. We're all waiting for the world to end. We can believe, as things would seem, or are you one of those that just pretends? Are you aware, let be declared, we're all waiting for the world to end. Let's wait for it.

TUCKER: This album's title announces its method. It was recorded mostly live in the studio and mixed in mono. This is, it wants, a throwback to pre-1970s pop music recording, and a shrewd way to place Malo's voice in an equal setting with the rest of the band's instruments. You can hear it in Mano's big opening number, "All Night Long," a marvelous Latin pop ballad in which Raul Malo's voice fights its way through the drums, horns and guitars to emerge triumphant.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL NIGHT LONG")

THE MAVERICKS: (Singing) A moment in history, that's what you mean to me. Into the witching hour, where only your special power can make any blue sky rain or keep everything the same. For here's what I want to do. I want to make love to you. I want to love you all night long. I want to love you all night long. As long as we have tonight...

TUCKER: The Mavericks, since their comeback a couple of years ago, are signed to Big Machine Records on the Valory label. This is notable because Big Machine is also the home of Taylor Swift, whose ambitions outstripped the confines of country to achieve massive pop stardom. At this point in the life of The Mavericks, the band is never going to attain that kind of commercial success, but it's good that the band has found a record label that understands what this group is about. Like Swift, Raul Malo is a restless explorer of genres, who likes to make music that confounds the usual expectations of what a country hit maker can do.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed The Mavericks' new album, called "Mono."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT THE DOOR")

THE MAVERICKS: (Singing) So I can tell you now. I don't want you, and I don't need you. And I certainly don't love you anymore. I'm just trying to keep from crying the moment that you walk out the door - the moment that you walk, the moment that you walk, the moment that you walk out the door.

DAVIES: Coming up, tech correspondent Alexis Madrigal considers the growing number of smart home appliances, like the coffee maker that can send you a text. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.

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