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Raul Malo Fires The Faithful With New CD, Old Favorites

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

IN TUNE: With a new album, a new band and a hooting, hollering house at Teaneck’s Mexicali Live spurring him on, Raul Malo turned back the clock to his Mavericks days, igniting a foot-stomping Saturday night crowd with barnburners and show-stoppers -- and thoroughly enjoying himself in the process.

Malo still wrapped those amazing pipes around a few ballads.

But the night was designed to open the throttle on “Sinners and Saints,” a tejano-inspired, flamenco-flavored collection of mostly originals that echo Doug Sahm, the Texas Tornados, Los Lobos and some old-fashioned Mexican-fired norteño that got as enthusiastic a response as the more familiar standards.

After opening with the psychedelic surf-like title track, followed by a couple of other selections from the eclectic new CD, Malo seemed surprised to find the cat-calling throng cheering wildly.

“This is gonna be some night,” he said.

And it was.

Although it was a sit-down show, people rose, clapped and sang along, as Malo took a crackerjack ensemble through the paces. Each of his charges was up to the task, particularly a multi-talented instrumentalist who played organ and trumpet — sometimes at the same time — as well as a hypnotic xylophone.

The crew, and Malo, played a variety of instruments, with magnificent sideman Michael Guerra deftly handling accordian, acoustic guitar and ukelele.

It’s been seven years since the alt-country Mavericks split, and Malo has spent much of that time crooning, often performing with only a pianist or accordian player.

But the mariachi magic is back — even the tour’s t-shirts are designed to look like a label on a tequila bottle. And the title track of “Saints and Sinners,” his sixth studio album, deliberately displays Malo’s guitar-playing prowess, leaving his distinctive baritone to wait a full minute and a half before entering the fray.

The extended show offered most of the new album, as well as a host of Mavs‘ tunes, including “Dance the Night Away,” “I Said I Love You,” “There Goes My Heart,” Jesse Winchester’s “O What a Thrill,” and his own magnificent “Every Little Thing About You.”

And in case anyone’s forgotten his singular talent, Malo — untucked and collar up — opened the encore, solo, with “When You’re Only Lonely” and “Games That Lovers Play.” Earlier in the set, he played two of the covers from the new CD, Rodney Crowell’s hearbreaking “Till I Gain Control Again” and Los Lobos’ “The Saint Behind the Glass.”

But the velvet gloves clearly are off: Malo’s self-produced CD taps a vein of soulful Cuban samba, Zarzuelas and memento music — a sound much more familiar to South Floridians than to Northeasterners.

Close your eyes, and you could feel you were in an open-air club somewhere near the beach or listening to a honky-tonk jukebox along the Mexican border, instead of in an intimate joint in Teaneck.

In the end, things will change: By the time Malo has fine-tuned to act to the point that it’s ready to play larger rooms, he’ll have to select standing-room venues. You can’t possibly stay seated when he and his band are swinging.

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