From the opening trumpet notes, you know Sinners and Saints won’t be your ordinary country CD. The title cut sounds like the end result of a Ventures meeting with Nino Rota at a seaside bar in Cuba, then having them sit to write the title tune for the next Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.
Ex-Mavericks front-man and principal songwriter Raul Malo has nicely adjusted from the life of a country superstar to that of a simple singer/ songwriter.
On Sinners and Saints, we’re treated to the fruits of his travels. Malo delivers Latin-tinged honkytonk country tunes from dance-hall rave-ups, through Freddie Fenderish tearjerker ballads.
Malo’s first – and still most impressive instrument – is his voice. He has the most wonderful sonorous timbre, sort of like Roy Orbison, but in a baritone range.
Recorded at Ray Benson’s Bismeaux Studios in the heart of Texas, and assisted by Texas Tornado veterans Augie Meyers on keyboards, Shawn Sahm (Doug Sahm’s son) on guitar, and Michael Guerra on accordion, it’s inevitable that this album has a strong Tex-Mex flavor, even on pop/country numbers like “Staying Here.” On the accordion-driven ditty “Superstar,” Malo spins a lurid tale of music biz success and failure amid florid accordion arpeggios and a stomping polka beat. And, sure, there’s a brass section.
Self-produced, Sinners and Saints sounds as lush as any mainstream Nashville release. Actually, it sounds better. On the last song, “Hammer and a Nail,” the soundstage is huge and there’s an aura around Malo’s twin lead vocals. It sounds like Buddy Holly singing a duet with Roy Orbison. Heavenly.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.