First rising to prominence as the frontman for The Mavericks, arguably the most unconventional band ever to make any significant inroads in mainstream country music, Raul Malo has consistently been heralded—most often with a comparison to Roy Orbison—for his striking voice. Exploring ever more diverse sounds throughout the late 1990s with The Mavericks and then on his two solo albums (one Latin-pop, the other an eclectic set of acoustic covers), Malo has proven that his powerful tenor can sell almost any style of song. You’re Only Lonely, however, is a collection of pop standards with a comatose production (by Peter Asher) that makes Rod Stewart’s shrill The Great American Songbook series seem lively and inspired in comparison.
While The Mavericks looked to vintage pop sounds as an influence on some of their most memorable singles (“O What A Thrill” and “I Should Have Been True”), Malo and Asher never once threaten to break out a vocal or instrumental arrangement that’s in any way progressive. From the limp song choices that include “At Last,” the Bee Gees’ “Run To Me,” and Harry Nilsson’s “Remember”—and, honestly, there needs to be a moratorium declared on Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home”—to the restrained, tasteful orchestral swells that lead into nearly every chorus on the album, You’re Only Lonely surprises only for the fact that Malo has made a career to this point of bringing a certain brio and an oddball pop sensibility to whatever genre he’s tackled.
For You’re Only Lonely, in place of that enthusiasm or, even more strangely, any discernible interpretive skill, he brought in Martina McBride (doing a career-best Celine Dion impersonation, oscillating as she does from a barely audible whisper to a full-on scream between the verses and the chorus and mistaking that for emotional depth) for an album-closing reprise of “Feels Like Home.” Listening to their duet, it’s easy to imagine this album flying off the shelves of Hallmark stores. Certainly lesser vocalists like Stewart and Michael McDonald have proven that there’s a market for this kind of pap. For Malo, at least there’s comfort in knowing that he’s never recorded the same album twice.