Music News & Reviews

Raul Malo finally finding his place

Raul Malo

8 p.m. April 18 at The Dame, 367 E. Main St. $15. (859) 231-7263.

There was a time when Raul Malo didn't feel especially in sync with the pop or country worlds.

With an almost operatic singing voice that made comparisons to landmark vocal stylist Roy Orbison unavoidable, the Miami-born Malo never readily fit into the country category. Neither did the music he fashioned with his breakthrough band, The Mavericks. By the late '90s, on albums like Trampoline, the band spent as much time exploring epic-scale Cuban-flavored escapades and brassy swing as it did radio-ready country.

"All my life, even when The Mavericks started to gain some notoriety, I felt I was born too late," said Malo, who performs Saturday at The Dame. "All the music I loved, all the art ... it all came before me.

"But now, for some reason, it feels like I was born just at the right time. I feel I'm rotating in the same direction now as the planet. I guess that's just part of being a little older, a little more mature, maybe. But also, you can't change the world if you're always going against it."

It's not that Malo has been the rebellious sort. Born to Cuban parents, he was surrounded by multiple genres of music as a child. Country was merely one of them. As The Mavericks' popularity bloomed, so did the band's willingness to experiment with accents of soul, blues, jazz, salsa and cha-cha — all of which became a natural fit for Malo's expansive singing.

Today, with a still-flourishing solo career, Malo doesn't have to seek allegiance with a genre as specific or commercially dependent as country. That's why the seemingly disparate sounds at work on Lucky One have an almost familial feel to them.

On Hello Again, the Orbison spirit is nothing short of resplendent. On You Always Win, Malo croons with the assuredness of Sinatra. On Lonely Hearts, the mix of wily guitar twang and carnival-flavored keyboards recalls late-'80s Dwight Yoakam mischief. Elements of rockabilly, Tex-Mex and elegant balladry color the rest of Lucky One.

"It is me singing and it is me writing all the songs, so the music on the album is all coming from one spot," Malo said. "Looking back, though, I grew up listening to so many different styles of music. But I could always find the co-relation between them. I could always find the link between Elvis Presley and country music, or what Sam Phillips and (his Memphis-based) Sun Records was doing compared to what Nashville did later. And within what Nashville was doing, I could tell where rhythm and blues was going. I just always made those connections.

"Of course, there was always a lot of Cuban music around as I was growing up. And when you're growing up in Miami, you're at the gateway to the Caribbean, so you had all of this great reggae and ska music. And there was all of the wonderful American rock 'n' roll and pop stuff, too. I listened to it all, and it all sounded great."

Translating those inspirations into a stylistic sound of his own would have been futile had Malo not possessed a natural vocal ability that was far more than a simple reflection of the influences he grew up with.

"You could listen to Pavarotti all you want, but chances are you're never going to sound like him," Malo said. "Obviously, I was born with a gift that I appreciate so much and feel so blessed to have. It has defined my life in so many ways. But you also have to take in all of your influences, study them, become a better vocalist and better musician and then almost unlearn everything so you can start singing, hopefully, from a very special place. Then you hope all of that translates to how people feel about your music. "

Record Store Day

Noon April 18 at CD Central, 377 S. Limestone. Free. (859) 233-3472.

The lost consumer art of shopping for the kind of musical product you can actually hold in your hand is the annual thrust of Record Store Day.

On Saturday, hundreds of record stores worldwide that have become endangered species in the iPod era will honor their heritage, from Spokane's 4000 Holes to Hong Kong's White Noise Records to Copenhagen's Repo Man Records.

Lexington's CD Central is part of the global party, too, with a full day of free live and (mostly) local music. The lineup includes a solo acoustic performance by The Apples in Stereo's Robert Schneider along with sets by The Butchers, Chico Fellini, Cincinnati's The Sundresses, Ben Sollee and Attempt.

Cellist Sollee will be doing double duty on Saturday. He will race to CD Central after performing another Record Store Day set at Louisville's ear-x-tacy.

For more info on the around-the-world scope of Record Store Day, go to www.recordstoreday.com.

Also this weekend

■ With a sound still as mighty as its name, Tower of Power performs Friday at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville. This will be the veteran soul band's first Central Kentucky concert since a Rupp Arena show with B.B. King in fall 1999. Last week, TOP, known for its champion horn sound, released Great American Soulbook. The album teams the band with several guest vocalists for covers of classic and overlooked soul material. But expect the big noise tonight to come from (and for) TOP's own hits, including the early-'70s gems You're Still a Young Man, So Very Hard to Go and the ageless groove anthem What Is Hip? (8 p.m.; $35, $40, $45). Call 1-877-448-7469

■ You know it's a full weekend when you barely have room to mention the Lexington return of The English Beat. Granted, only singer/guitarist Dave Wakeling, who moved to Southern California more than 20 years ago, remains from the band that turned post-punk music into epic ska (Mirror in the Bathroom) and brilliant pop (Save It for Later) during the early '80s. The Beat's last local concert came in spring 1983 at the University of Kentucky Student Center Ballroom, when its opening act was a scruffy, unknown combo from Georgia called R.E.M.

On Sunday, The Beat goes on at The Dame. (8 p.m., $15).

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