Country Jukebox Jury LP: Raul Malo – Quarantunes, Volume 1

Raul Malo has posted weekly Quarantunes onto The Mavericks’ Youtube channel. Even more astonishingly, he had surgery at the end of 2019 so moved from convalescence to quarantine. Such are the benefits of being on your own label, Mono Mundo, that Raul can control his output and so a two-disc collection of 30 cover versions now appear on streaming services too. Perhaps Gary Barlow will do the same with his Crooner Sessions.

Raul has help from Band of Heathens and his trusty Mellotron, which provides the basic drum track and old-timey accompaniment over which Raul plays and sings. On Disc One alone, I recommend the opening pair Love and Spanish Eyes, with Raul wrapping his pipes around some classic songwriting. See also Forever and Ever, a languid melody that Raul sings as if he’s on a soundtrack of a black-and-white movie (thanks to the mood of the Mellotron). Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl, John Prine’s I Just Want to Dance With You and the waltz Santa Lucia, complete with a chuckle from Raul, are gorgeous. The non-anglophone pair of Hey Gumbaree (I know it as Eh Cumpari) and Besame Mucho are good fun too.

Then come some standards: Those Were The Days and The Sound of Silence, with the melody taken on both occasions by a forlorn electric guitar; All of Me, where the vocal is stunning; My Way, which is better than most interpretations; and, rounding off the set, a solo version of A Change is Gonna Come.

Under socially distanced conditions, his band join him on tracks on Disc Two including Here Comes The Sun, Ventura Highway by America and the band’s classic Back In Your Arms Again, a live highlight. And who knew Sweet Caroline sounded brilliant as a soft country shuffle?

The version of Rockin’ In The Free World came too late for the CD but it’s there on Youtube, with Raul playing with his sons Max and Dino. They’re lucky to have such a talented and cool dad, who proves himself one of America’s underrated interpreters of popular song.

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