Roots rocker Raul Malo enjoying life as a solo artist

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So long, Mavericks.

Last year, the maverick country band that bucked the mainstream lost one of the most distinctive voices in the industry when founder Raul Malo left the group. Fans, friends and industry analysts had seen the split coming for years. Malo had been drifting further from the group, releasing three critically acclaimed solo albums since 2001 and launching well-received concert tours without The Mavericks. He'd been with them for ...

  

Raul Malo voices little regret over leaving The Mavericks.

Raul Malo

With: Autumn Ayers (6:30 p.m.).
Where: Point State Park, Three Rivers Arts Festival.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Admission: Free.
Three Rivers Arts Festival schedule


"Too long," spat Malo in a recent telephone interview. "I freed myself from that yoke about a year ago. I was just tired of being in The Mavericks. I'm proud of what I did with them, particularly [the 1998 CD] 'Trampoline.' But after a while it's like, 'What am I doing here, exactly? I seem to be doing everything here.' "

Now, Malo's still doing everything. But he's doing it for himself, and he obviously loves it.

"You know, once you free yourself of the confines of the group," he says, "you can pretty much do whatever you want."

So what does Malo want? He's a music industry maverick. His rich and powerful tenor could have been applied to more classical pursuits, but he knows when to turn off the vibrato, and he prefers country music. With some production tricks and perhaps some more timely songs, he could go the mainstream country route. But he likes traditional country, roots rock and broader musical experimentation too much to cram himself into the cookie-cutter. Born in Miami of Cuban-born parents, he's always had an sweet spot for Latin and lounge tunes, and he's put his personal brand on lots of early rock covers.

Malo will open the 2006 Three Rivers Arts Festival with a diverse set of songs from his Mavericks and solo catalogs. His most recent CD, the Peter Asher-produced "You're Only Lonely," ranges from the Everly Brothers' "So Sad" to Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" to the Bee Gees' "Run to Me."

Perhaps the closest run-in Malo has had with the country mainstream is his duet of Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home" with Nashville superstar Martina McBride. It's a beautiful give-and-take arrangement that showcases two of the best voices in the business. But is it a step toward Hot Country radio waves? Hardly.

"I've known Martina for years," he says. "I'll tell you how this came up. We happened to be working on different recording projects with the same mixing engineer, and he said, 'Let's play her the song and see if she likes it.' It's just that the timing was right. I've never tried to make music just so radio would play it. It would be nice, but radio is just a tough nut to crack, and I don't worry about it."


John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.


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