in performance: raul malo/brigid kaelin

raul malo.

raul malo.

We’re not ones to reduce anyone down to a cultural stereotype. But on the basis of his solo acoustic performance at last night’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre, the rap sheet on Raul Malo reads something like this: Miami born ex-country singer of Cuban parents interprets songs either written or popularized by Roy Orbison, Enrico Caruso, Jesse Winchester, Rodney Crowell and himself.

OK, did we leave anything out? With Malo, you can’t always tell. Possessed with a clear, booming tenor voice and a seemingly boundless sense of musical adventure, the former frontman for country renegades The Mavericks streamlined those influences into a sketchpad-style set that let just enough of his vocal potency out of the bag to astound the capacity crowd.

Sure, hearing the title track to Malo’s 2009 album Lucky One without its bright, horn-driven sass or Every Little Thing About You minus the sinuous Cuban strut can leave an audience without a full appreciation of the singer’s vast stylistic cunning. But the solo setting simply put those tunes in line with the country solemnity summoned during Crowell’s ‘Til I Gain Control Again (from Malo’s upcoming Sinners & Saints album) and Winchester’s O What a Thrill (from The Mavericks’ career-making third album, What a Crying Shame).

But going Neapolitan on the crowd with the operatic staple O Sole Mio? Who saw that coming? Malo sang it all with unassuming clarity and, frankly, modesty.

As an encore, he embraced the most obvious vocal spirit that inhabits his music: Roy Orbison. But his version of Don Gibson’s (I’d Be) A Legend in My Time (cut for Orbsion’s 1961 debut album, Roy Orbison Sings Lonely and Blue) was a curve ball. Far from Orbison’s most recognized work, it contained no mammoth vocal crests or pop crescendos for Malo to ride. It was, at heart, a country lament sung without undue pathos or grandstanding. While he possessed enough vocal ammo to belt the song into next year, Malo sang with a reserved dignity that would have done ol’ Roy proud indeed.

Louisvillian Brigid Kaelin nicely augmented the program with witty and literate pop exercises (Future Mr. Used-to-Be, Whiskey in My Faucet) and instrumentation on keyboards, accordion and, in the case of a brief recitation of My Old Kentucky Home, musical saw that provided the set with abundant home-crafted color.

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