Listening to Raul Malo sing transcends the aural experience. The leader of the Mavericks and a genre-bending solo artist, Malo possesses a voice that vibrates through a listener’s entire core — to say nothing of what it does on an emotional level.
Equal parts Orbison and Pavarotti, Malo, then, is regarded as one of country music’s most respected singers. With that in mind, Rolling Stone Country polled Malo for his own favorite vocalists. Here’s his Great Eight, in his own words.
“Top of the list as far as a pure beautiful instrument is Pavarotti. His version of ‘Nessun Dorma’ is probably the standard by which others are measured and fail because it’s about as perfect as it could be.”
“Louis Armstrong is the opposite of Pavarotti as far as texture and technique and all that. But what a communicator, what a visionary, what a monster. I mean, here’s a man whose grandmother was a slave. To affect the world like he did is such a beautiful thing and such a miracle. You look at him and he wasn’t handsome, yet he was not going to be denied.”
“Some people love the swagger, some people love the songs, some people love the timbre of his voice, but the truth of it is that it is all of that. And that just goes with being a great communicator. He didn’t necessarily live his songs, but when he sang them he made you think he lived those songs. And that is the art. People say, ‘Well, so and so hasn’t suffered enough or this and that.’ That has nothing to do with it. It is how you communicate.”
“The Spanish singer Rocío Dúrcal is one of my favorites. She had one of those powerhouse passionate voices that no matter what she sang, you didn’t have to know what she was talking about, it was apparent.”
“Patsy Cline was just perfection. She was playful and flirty when she had to be, and then deeply personal and mournful and painful. I t was all in this beautiful tone. I think she was probably about as perfect as can be.
“My gosh those records! Certainly her story was a heartbreaking one no doubt. She lived more than most of us, but I think perhaps that’s what came through in her songs and her delivery.”
“He’s an obvious one. You know, Roy Orbison was more influential for his songs for me than even his singing. And I don’t mean to discount his singing in any which way — he was certainly an influence. But it was really his songwriting that drew me in to Roy.”
“Willie is much like a Louis Armstrong in that they are different [vocal stylists] and yet their influence on the world is unprecedented. There is no explanation except for they are just fucking great.”