Sinners & Saints

If Americana music has a Mr. Dependable to match mainstream country’s George Strait, it may well be Raul Malo. That’s not to suggest that Malo albums all sound the same, because they very definitely do not, but rather to give the man props for always covering the spread promised by his considerable musical gifts. You don’t have to love every album the man makes, but you really have to put on your best cranky pants to outright hate any of them. Because no matter what genre he feels like playing with, be it across an entire album or varying from track to track, Malo never sounds less than 100-percent engaged and in control. So when the Florida-born, Nashville-based former Mavericks frontman indulges an appetite for Tex-Mex on Sinners & Saints, his sixth solo album, he pulls it off with puro San Antonio conviction. Although Malo produced and recorded most of the songs at his home studio in Nashville, part of the record was tracked in Austin with generous instrumental assists from Augie Meyers, Shawn Sahm (son of Doug) and Michael Guerra and guest vocals by the Trishas. The resulting combo plate of Meyers’ Vox organ, Guerra’s accordion and Malo’s double-octave pipes evokes what might have been had the late Roy Orbison been drafted by the Texas Tornados instead of the Traveling Wilburys — most notably on the bouncy “Superstar” and the Sir Douglas Quintet-worthy “San Antonio Baby.” Another Lone Star, Houston kid Rodney Crowell, gets a bow via a reverent pass at “‘Til I Gain Control Again.” But the scope of Sinners & Saints is bigger than just Texas. Bookended by the dramatic Flamenco/surf-rock grandeur of a title track and an outrageously beautiful cover of Los Lobos’ “Saint Behind the Glass” that outshines even the original on the classic Kiko, this is easily one of the most consistently rewarding albums of Malo’s career. — RICHARD SKANSE