Most people met this great singer through his career with The Mavericks. He's got one of those voices that rises out of speakers like a saxophone or a string section, a big smooth pleasing sound. And he sounds like singers used to sound, all of his heroes.

To talk to, Raul Malo sounds happy living in his own skin. His presence as a solo artist has never been more vital than it is here, on Lucky One. In the seven years since his last record of original songs, Raul recorded two CDs of covers, You're Only Lonely and After Hours.

What you get on Lucky One is the artist at home, working in his studio on songs and demos. A few of those demos turned out so well that they went right to disc as is, with Raul playing all the instruments in some cases. But most of the songs were co-produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame, who was also Raul's co-captain on Today, from 2001.

Who knew Malo was such a good guitar player? When you sing like that, you have to play pretty well to get noticed, I guess. And it is simply the way that he sings, the way that he can sing, that leaves most vocalists in the dust--as leading men, anyhow. There's always room, thankfully, for character singers. But if you look around and ask, who are the Sinatras, the Tony Bennetts, the Roy Orbisons of this time, one of the very first names that comes to mind is Raul Malo. And he sticks.

He's got that undeniable quality. He's got the low notes and the high notes, the machismo and the romantic. And what you have here is a singer writing for his voice, without worrying about the genre or the market or the radio format to which the song belongs. The songs all have great melodies, because these are the vocalist's stock in trade.

Lucky One is Raul Malo's best vehicle to date, and it finds him at the apex of his game.

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