Southern Revival: Mavericks

David McClister
by Matt Hendrickson - December 2012/January 2013

The genre-defying Mavericks are back, and better than ever

>First Listen: Check out "Back in Your Arms" from their new album In Time

It was a rainy night in Birmingham, England, in 2010, and Raul Malo had just finished a show at the city’s music/comedy venue the Glee Club when an elderly woman grabbed him tightly on the forearm. “She told me to never stop singing,” says Malo, a singer of Cuban-American descent who happens to possess one of the greatest voices in country music. “Then she said, ‘What happened to the Mavericks?’”

What had happened to the Mavericks? While not a commercial behemoth, the Miami-turned-Nashville band that Malo had fronted was a rare commodity in the country music world in the late nineties: successful, influential, and lauded by critics. They toured relentlessly, becoming renowned for incendiary live shows that mixed old-time country, rockabilly, and salsa-fried rock and roll. Then, in 2005, it all came to a screeching halt. “When you start communicating with each other through lawyers and managers, it’s time to step back,” Malo says.

But time is the great healer in relationships, and the band is back together. Instead of just going for the cash-grab reunion tour, however, in January they will release their seventh studio album, In Time. Behind Malo’s rich, knee-buckling baritone, the band cooks up their trademark genre-blurring sound in one of their best efforts to date, mixing honky-tonk country, Roy Orbison–drenched pop, and south-of-the-border influences.

The process started in late 2011, when Malo went over to a friend’s house to work on some songs and walked out with what became “Back in Your Arms Again,” the album’s horn-inflected opening track. “It hit me like a truckload of bricks,” he says. “It had that groove, that Mavericks feel.” Malo began writing other songs, and in early 2012, the band got together for the first time in seven years, ostensibly just to mull over tour offers—until Malo put a CD in the player. “Everyone just looked at each other and said, ‘Oh yes,’” he says. “We’re older, wiser, and we all played our asses off.”

Malo has been immersed in music since his childhood, growing up in Miami’s Little Havana in an extended family that played together every Saturday night. His grandfather was a talented singer, mixing in operatic arias with traditional Cuban music. And while Miami isn’t exactly a country music hotbed, it actually served the band well early on as they played gigs in front of all kinds of crowds, including one show opening for goth/shock rocker Marilyn Manson. “We played the most honky-tonkiest set we could,” says Malo. “‘Ring of Fire,’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,’ songs like that. We blew their minds.”

It’s those types of moments over the years that have won the band a diverse following—everyone from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters to Kenny Chesney are admirers, not to mention thousands like the woman in Birmingham. “Our fans never gave up on us; they wouldn’t let it die,” says Malo with profound appreciation. “It feels really good to know how special this band is and can be.”