Raul Malo Hugh's Room, Toronto, ON August 12

Raul Malo Hugh's Room, Toronto, ON August 12
Fresh from an appearance at the Edmonton Folk Festival, Raul Malo checked into Hugh's Room for a rare solo performance. He kicked things off with a number he introduced as a torch song, and the entire show was decidedly more torch than twang.

Malo was previously the front-man of the much-loved Mavericks, arguably the best genuine country band of the '90s. Since their demise, his solo career has ventured into the terrains of jazz, Latin and pop, and his set here showcased the romantic balladeer.

Malo pulls off the transition effortlessly, thanks to a gorgeously rich and powerful tenor voice heard in few of his peers. Roy Orbison remains a valid reference point, while Malo called one original song a tribute to the Mills Brothers. Here's an artist more influenced by the '50s than recent decades, and this may help account for the decidedly older demographic in attendance.

Undercutting the sombre supper club vibe was Malo's refreshing wit. He joked at one point that if a date didn't like "La Vie En Rose" he'd dump her body in the Everglades, before offering a brilliant version of the cabaret classic. Alongside material from his 2009 album Lucky One, he served up stripped-down versions of a few Mavericks classics, including the politically charged "From Hell to Paradise," "Dance the Night Away," "Oh What a Crying Shame" and an encore of "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down."

That encore number was the most uptempo of the night, and it would have been nice to hear Malo rock out just a little more. Still, a sweet and tranquil closing version of "Stardust" brought him a standing ovation, and proved his class as a classic crooner.