Raul Midón's pointedly titled new album Don't Hesitate demonstrates
why, a dozen years and eight albums into a recording
career that's won him massive critical acclaim and a passionately
devoted international fan base, he remains one of his
era's most distinctive and beloved recording artists.
A smoothly expressive singer, an emotionally insightful songwriter
and an exciting, innovative acoustic guitarist, Midón
maintains an expansive musical vision that's led People magazine
to call him "an eclectic adventurist" and Huffington Post
to dub him "a free man beyond category... he plays with such
freedom and joy that his hands smile.”. The New York Times
described him as "a one-man band who turns a guitar into an
orchestra and his voice into a chorus." Billboard called him,
simply and aptly, “a virtuoso.”
Search for “Raul Midón” on YouTube and you’ll find a clip of him
appearing on The Late Show With David Letterman in 2006.
Performing “State of Mind,” the title track from his major-label
debut, Midón unveils what would become his signature combination
of silky tenor voice and percussive guitar style. His guitar
playing is a syncopated, flamenco- and jazz-infused wonder
in which bass, harmony and melodic lines fly from the fretboard
in a way that seems to belie the fact that all the music is being
produced by just two hands. If that weren’t enough, Midón
busts out his improvisational mouth-horn technique, in which
he creates a bebop “trumpet” solo entirely with his lips, earning
himself a spontaneous burst of mid-song applause from the
audience in the process.
While Midón's eclectic talents have won the admiration of fans
and critics, they've also led to him collaborating with such musical
heroes as Herbie Hancock, Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder,
appearing on recordings by Jason Mraz, Queen Latifah and
Snoop Dogg, and contributing to the soundtrack to Spike Lee's
She Hate Me.
The forward-thinking, habitually restless Midón continues to
take on new creative challenges on Don't Hesitate. The 14-
song album finds his infectious, personally-charged songcraft
as sharp and soulful as ever, manifesting an organic blend of
R&B, jazz and Latin elements that accentuate the lyrical and
melodic resonance of such memorable new tunes as "Libertad,"
"Was It Ever Really Love," "God's Dream" and the rousing title
track, as well as an inventive reboot of The Who's classic-rock
standard "I Can See for Miles."
Don't Hesitate is a musical and personal milestone for Midón,
who took control of every aspect of the album's recording
process, despite being blind since birth. The artist cut all of
the tracks in his home studio, playing most of the instruments
himself and handling all of the project's technical elements on
his own, utilizing special computer software that enabled him
to engineer the sessions.
"The whole process was unlike any other record I've made,"
Midón explains. Don’t Hesitate finds the singer-guitarist adding
producer-engineer to his portfolio of talents. "Most of it was
done in my basement, and I dealt with all the technical issues
myself. It began with me setting daily tasks, which was that
when I'm not on the road, I'm going to get up every morning and work on music. It was a day-in, day-out process of working through
problems and figuring things out—'OK, how do I make this happen,
how do I get this to sound the way I want it to?' And I
had to learn to balance the technical concerns with all the
normal creative things of getting your songs and performances
"There's not a whole lot of trickery involved in this album," he
adds, "but it still has that edgy, eclectic quality that I like, and
I'm playing some instruments that I don't really play. Like the
charango. I have a beautiful charango and I don't really know
how to play it, but I figured out how to play what I wanted out
Although Midón handles most of Don't Hesitate's vocals and instruments
himself, some notable guest artists stepped up to
contribute to the album. He duets with world-class vocalists
Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright on "Make It Better" and "Keep
Holding On," respectively, while noted jazz bassists Marcus
Miller and Richard Bona lend their talents to "Mi Amigo Cubano"
and "If You Want Me To," and the acclaimed sibling duo of Daniel
and David Bailen are featured on the catchy "All You Need."
Another noteworthy contributor to the album is R&B legend Bill
Withers, who has largely withdrawn from the spotlight in recent
years, but whose longstanding admiration for Midón was
enough for the veteran icon to suggest that they try writing
together. The result is the lilting, tropical-flavored "Mi Amigo
Cubano," whose Spanish lyrics mark it as a departure for both
artists. Midón and Withers can be seen working on the song in
the new Withers documentary Still Bill.
The openhearted sense of adventure that propels Don't
Hesitate has been a constant in Raul Midón's life. Born in rural
Embudo, New Mexico to an African-American mother and an
Argentinean father, he grew up surrounded by music, thanks in
part to his father's diverse record collection, which ranged
from classical to bebop to modern avant garde composers. After
taking an early interest in drumming, Raul gravitated towards
guitar during early childhood. After attending the University
of Miami, where he participated in that school's prestigious
jazz curriculum, he became a part of that city's music
scene, gaining attention for his own live gigs while becoming an
in-demand backup singer for such Latin-pop artists as Julio and
Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, and Alejandro Sanz. In total, he recorded
background vocals on more than 60 albums.
Although he was making a good living singing backup in Miami,
Midón felt the need to pursue his own music. So, in May 2002,
he walked away from his lucrative life as a sideman and moved
to New York City in order to focus on his solo career. There,
he met and began writing and recording with renowned DJ Little
Louie Vega, with whom he toured Europe, Japan and Australia.
Meanwhile, he played whatever solo gigs he could, developing
the forceful, show-stopping performance approach for
which he's now known. Although that style is now his trademark,
it was initially borne of his efforts to grab the attention
of distracted barroom crowds.
"My first regular gig when I moved to New York," Midón recalls,
"was playing in this bar on the West Side, between sets by a
Top 40 band, surrounded by a lot of drunk people. And here I
come with just an acoustic guitar, so you've got to find a way
to get them to pay attention. So I took a warrior approach. It
was, "OK, I'm not just another singer-songwriter singing about
sensitive things. I'm gonna show you something that you've
never seen before.' That was a great education, and I still approach
it that way.
"Every time I do a performance," he says, "I'm working on
something, whether it's diction or pitch or a certain guitar
technique. When I'm up on stage, I clear my mind of everything
else, and I give people the best of what I've got at that
moment. Some nights I've got more than other nights, but I
never phone it in, and I never treat a gig like it's less important
than any other gig. And I'd like to believe that people can feel
that. They're seeing me as pure and truthful as I can be."
Midón's growing reputation as a live performer helped him to
win the attention of legendary producer Arif Mardin, who
signed him to his first major-label deal. Midón's 2005 album
State of Mind was greeted warmly by fans and critics alike, as
were 2007's A World Within a World, 2009's Synthesis, and
2012's self-released live CD/DVD Invisible Chains: Live from
NYC, which solidified the devotion of a fervent fan base that
spans the globe.
The vibrant creative spirit that animated those albums reaches
a new level of inspiration on Don't Hesitate, underlining Raul
Midón's stature as a one-of-a-kind artist whose lifelong pursuit
of musical transcendence is an ongoing quest.
"I think that what people respond to with me is that there's no
trickery about what I'm doing," Midón concludes. "I'm just singing
and playing and trying to be as honest as I can be. For me,
the best recordings capture moments of real life, and that's
what I'm trying to do."
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