For singer and songwriter Raul Malo, the return of The Mavericks was crystallized during the sessions for an eight-minute song that closes the made-in-Miami country-pop band’s first album in a decade.
Call Me When You Get to Heaven, a track from the new In Time (out Feb. 26), surges and builds and repeats its catch-phrase so effectively it almost feels like a distant cousin of Stevie Wonder’s rhythmic Another Star, an eight-minute song the R&B master used to close his 1976 opus Songs in the Key of Life.
Malo, 47, sprung the composition on his band mates during sessions for In Time in Nashville last year. “It’s one of those I had it in my head how I wanted it to come out. I wanted the tension,” he said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t tell the band we’d build to this Ravel Bolero sort of thing. We recorded it all live. The only overdub was the backing singers, and the whole track is performance. That’s when I felt the band I knew was going to be really tight and play as a band.”
The Mavericks emerged from the club scene in Miami in 1989 as a sort of novelty — a country band fronted by a Miami-born Cuban-American who sang with the purity and rich command of a young Roy Orbison. Within two years the group, fronted by Malo and which included pals Robert Reynolds on bass and Paul Deakin on drums, signed to MCA nationally. For awhile, the Mavericks’ musical gumbo of country, Tex Mex and pop on such albums as What a Crying Shame and Music for All Occasions led to a handful of Top 40 country hits and a 1996 Grammy as Best Country Duo or Group. But mainstream country radio, which likes its acts musically homogenized like Tim McGraw and Keith Urban, soon didn’t know what to make of the Mavericks’ sound.
Malo put out six solo albums and collaborated on a song with Neil Diamond for the Brooklyn icon’s Tennessee Moon album in 1996 , a pairing that still has the one-time Peaches music store clerk enthralled.
“I’ve met and gotten to work with a lot of great people, but when you meet Neil Diamond, you know you’re meeting Neil Diamond. A few years after that I was making my Today record, and we were in L.A., and I was with my Cuban band, and these guys are some of the top musicians. They played with everybody, and they are less than impressed with anything. When Neil walked into the studio to say hello those guys were so impressed,” Malo says, laughing at the memory.
Soon after, The Mavericks broke up after the release of an album in 2003 went unnoticed. “Everybody was so burnt out toward the end, and I think it just started to feel like we were phoning it in,” Malo says.
But old memories can be potent. “Toward the end of my last solo record I felt myself going, ‘I wish the Mavericks were doing this song’ because, man, this sounds like a Mavericks cut.”
In Time is everything the Mavericks did well with its crazy quilt of influences from pop crooner Dean Martin to country traditionalist Ray Price, from tangos and polkas to the Ravel Bolero nod, but with renewed energy. Growing up in multicultural Miami accounts greatly for the Maverick’s old-fashioned style, which In Time embodies and amplifies.
“I have this forever-etched vision in my head of the Fontainebleau in the ’60s and what that would have been like. I didn’t quite get to experience it, a born too late sort of thing, but I was thisclose to it, and I think that sort of vibe and sense of it resonated with me as a young man and that was the music I gravitated to — the cars, the suits, the look,” Malo says.
The five Mavericks plan to continue touring after an appearance at Austin’s South by Southwest in March. “We’re having a ball doing it, and fans are loving it, and that makes it all worthwhile.”
— HOWARD COHEN
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.