How much would it cost to hire the Mavericks for your birthday party or wedding? That entirely fanciful idea was uppermost in the mind after a performance by the Nashville-based nine-piece that delivered such a sheer good time as to send the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall audience back out into the winter night glowing with exhilaration.
Such is the beauty of the annual Celtic Connections festival, of which this concert was one of the 2013 edition’s highlights. A matchless showcase for the best in Celtic and spiritually related music, it serves as a tremendous tonic when people maybe most need it. And few tonics provide quite the rush of pleasure as two hours of the Mavericks’ Latin-infused country rock, served up by musicians who have honed their sound to perfection.
What made the evening so special was that Mavericks fans thought they had probably seen the last of a band who produced a string of sparkling albums through the 1990s but split up in 2003. Lead singer and frontman Raul Malo - Miami-born to Cuban parents - then went solo, and in spite of having the most heavenly voice of its kind since Roy Orbison, it wasn’t the same without his regular sidemen. Now the band are back with a new album – In Time – and, after this one-off show, there is the prospect of a tour proper, including a return to the UK later in the year.
Malo’s voice – a lonesome, soaring tenor with a gorgeous timbre – was something to bathe in. Looking a bit like Orson Welles in his Tio Pepe phase, he had a warm, engaging stage presence that bound him to the audience. Of those around him, guitarists Eddie Perez and Robert Reynolds, and drummer Paul Deakin, deserve special mention for laying down some great rhythms.
Thematically, Mavericks songs are country staples, dealing in generic tales of love’s pleasures and pains, yet they are underpinned by an unquenchable spirit of optimism, and in Malo’s hands they attain the status of high art.
After opening with a few, typically assured numbers from the new album, Malo mined the best of his back catalogue: “What A Crying Shame”, a heart-stopping, slowed-down version of “O, What A Thrill”, and, bringing almost the entire audience to their feet, “Dance The Night Away”.
A sequence of three solo numbers – just Malo and an acoustic guitar – showed that he could surely have been a top opera singer had he so chosen, and then the band returned for a delicious segue that took us from “Guantanamera” into “Twist and Shout”. And when “Blue Bayou” came along it was as if Orbison really was among us. An early contender for gig of the year.