An Ode to Raul Malo of The Mavericks

Even before he recently announced a diagnosis with what we all hope is a treatable form of Cancer, anyone who asked me to name the best singer of this generation would receive the answer “Raul Malo” back without hesitation. That goes for virtually any genre, though the thing about Raul, he can dabble in them all, has mastered a few, maybe even pioneered a couple on his own, and has done it all in two separate languages.

Sure, there are a few other names that comes to mind in the country realm when talking about landmark voices. Colter Wall is certainly a compelling one. Logan Ledger has a great one too, as underrated and under-utilized as it might be. Josh Turner and some others come to mind in the male category. But it’s hard to argue with Malo as one of the best. There is such a soaring effortlessness, and a sweetness to his tone that it certainly separates him from the herd, irrespective of personal taste.

But how many people in the general population would offer up Raul Malo if asked the same question? This is because for his 35-year career—as accomplished as it has been—Raul Malo has always followed his heart. Perhaps he could have been an operatic great of our era. He could be singing straight up pop.

Instead, Raul Malo has been unwilling and perhaps incapable of playing anyone else’s game, of following anyone else’s path but his own, of being pigeon holed in any particular place, and he seems uninterested in doing what will perhaps earn him the most treasure and prestige. He’s also not one to put himself out there as the “best” of anything. That’s why he reformed The Mavericks after his solo career. He feels more comfortable in a band, sharing the spotlight.

Similarly, Raul Malo has spent long stretches of his career championing music that otherwise might go undeserved, undiscovered or outright forgotten if it wasn’t for someone singing its praises.

Everyone loves to talk about the virtues of ’90s country these days and the era’s resurgence in influence. Let’s not forget that it was The Mavericks who were the CMA’s Vocal Group of the Year in 1995 and 1996. When you’re listening to a ’90s country playlist and a song like “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” or “What A Crying Shame” comes on, it smacks you square in the face with the feels, and reminds you just how spectacular Raul Malo and The Mavericks were back in the day.

But this is just where it all started. Where it would go with The Mavericks and Malo’s solo career would influence the worlds of country, Latin music, classic pop, big band, and everything in between.

But perhaps the most astounding thing about the career of Raul Malo and The Mavericks has been the longevity of it. Their big comeback record in 2013, In Time, won the Saving Country Music Album of the Year. This was the same year Sturgill Simpson released High Top Mountain, and Jason Isbell released Southeastern. Some still question that pick. But the strength of that Mavericks album is steadfast.

Eleven years later and six weeks ago, Raul Malo and The Mavericks released a new album called Moon & Stars that proves they’re just as compelling and entertaining as they’ve ever been, bending and blending genres in the right way, and always with an elemental respect for every one of the musical influences they work with, including country. It’s this “between the margins” aspect of Malo that has made him someone that you have to find, as opposed to a voice that finds you.

But make no mistake about it, Raul Malo is the man.

The prognosis for Raul Malo is good, the Cancer is small, and at the moment, it’s only affecting a few shows. (Aspen, CO on July 12, Denver, CO on July 13, Steamboat Springs, CO on July 14). But let’s not let this moment pass us by without showing some respect for a man that has made the magic in roots music happen for going on four decades, while looking forward to many more years of hearing the voice of Raul Malo grace a wide tapestry of music.

You can find Raul Malo’s statement below.

Recently, the doctors found a few cancerous spots in my digestive system. Obviously, this isn’t the news I was hoping to get, or to share with you all. They’ve reassured me this is a very common form of cancer, and my odds are good. Fortunately, we have a plan in place, and I’m feeling great! I’ll continue to be as active as possible throughout these treatments, but it does mean a few shows may be affected this year, and we’ll have more information for you as soon as possible on that.

But most importantly, I wanted to say to my fellow men out there, and anyone who may be reading this — It’s important to take care of your health, and to see a doctor for checkups, especially if something is wrong. With modern medicine, these types of cancer are very survivable with proper treatment, but if you don’t get checked, you’ll never know. It’s important to do it for your family, the people around you, and those you love.

I’m sharing this message in the spirit of transparency and honesty, as you all have stuck with us throughout these 35 crazy years of music, shows, breaking up, & getting back together – we’ve even survived a pandemic together. We’ll get through this just like we have everything else. In the meantime, I want you to know I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll look forward to seeing you all out on the road again soon.

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