For the uninformed, the term “country music” brings to mind songs about pickup trucks, cheatin’, and drinkin’. Leave it to Raul Malo to remind people that his genre of choice also has a genetic strand of sophistication — better known as countrypolitan — that dates back to Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline. And while Malo’s latest is his second all-covers album, this go-round has a far more organic ambiance than last year’s considerably slicker Peter Asher-produced You’re Only Lonely.
Recorded live in the studio with few overdubs, After Hours possesses the kind of wee, wee hours of the morning intimacy you’d expect to hear from a vintage Sinatra saloon song. When Malo tucks his rich baritone into the refrains of Buck Owens’ “Crying Time” amid the slightest hint of clarinet and tinkling piano, the ache is palpable. And while the mood emanating between the saxophone riffs and brushstrokes of “Take These Chains from My Heart” is one more of resignation than heartbreak, Malo does have his snappier moments. The bouncy arrangements applied to Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart” finds the Mavericks frontman swinging like a divorcee going through a midlife crisis. With After Hours, Malo has succeeded in making a Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music for this generation.