Raul Midon is one of the most phenomenally talented musicians of our time who is not widely known. A remarkably accomplished guitarist, singer and composer who has been compared to artists like Al Jarreau, George Benson, Donny Hathaway and Sting, Midon often receives rapturous reviews.
"When you witness someone who is really good, like singer-songwriter Raul Midon, it's a profoundly moving experience," praised the U.K. Guardian.
Soul-Culture noted: "As far as the blend of pop, folk, soul and jazz is concerned, it's hard to think of anyone doing it quite as well as him."
And Guitar World raved: "Raul Midon plays acoustic guitar like a tiger, with ferocity and grace. On 'Synthesis,' his fifth album, he slaps, snaps, taps and plucks his way through 11 songs that capture an organic style that fits flamenco, classical music, jazz and rock inside a lush pelt of pure, uplifting pop."
Midon will likely entrance his audience with one of the year's most memorable performances when he makes his Maui debut tonight at the MACC's Pavilion/Courtyard.
Admired by many leading musicians, in the last few years he's either recorded or performed live with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, India.Arie, Pat Metheny, Jason Mraz and hip-hop star Snoop Dog.
Influenced by jazz, blues, R&B, folk, Latin, classical and even reggae, Midon has developed his own percussive, flamenco/jazz guitar style. He calls it a "slap attack" guitar technique, allowing him to simultaneously play melody, harmony, bass and percussion, all while singing with graceful power.
"People say, 'You came up with your own style,' and I did, but I had extensive training," Midon explains. "I just used the training to help me technically. I took flamenco lessons and then I took classical guitar lessons. I work on it all the time. I'm on a constant quest to try to get better."
This dedication has led to his astonishing ability to play bongos and guitar simultaneously and perfectly mimic a trumpet with his voice. Add his honeyed, soulful vocals to the mix and it's no wonder he astonishes audiences wherever he plays.
A Rolling Stone review noted: "Raul Midon takes pride in extracting an entire orchestra of sounds from his guitar. At times it seems only his earnest lyrics anchor this gifted musician to terra ferma."
Born in rural New Mexico to an Argentinean father, Midon was blinded as a newborn in an incubator accident. Exposed to music throughout his childhood, he was fascinated with Argentinean percussion, American jazz and blues and sophisticated rock groups like Steely Dan.
"They were a huge influence," he says. "The pop music that spoke to me combined really interesting musical elements. Sting did it and Paul Simon and Steely Dan. It was an era that doesn't exist anymore."
After jazz studies at the University of Miami, he became a session singer for such Latin stars as Julio and Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Ricky Martin and Jose Feliciano. Moving to New York, he established a solo career and impressed legendary producer Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones), who helmed his 2005 debut album, "State of Mind" and proclaimed, "I rate Raul with all the other geniuses."
"It wasn't like, you know, natural blind genius. I pick up the guitar and do it," Midon says. "In order to be good, you have to go at it day after day, year after year. The only way to be really good is to have that kind of dedication. There's been such a shift in values these days where people expect to get things quickly. Today you expect to get everything right now."
The evolution of his artistry is brilliantly portrayed on his latest CD, "Synthesis," where's he's backed by some ace, veteran session players including bassist Larry Klein, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, percussionist Paulinho Da Costa and guitarist Dean Parks. Featuring 10 original songs and a sublime cover of The Beatles' "Blackbird," the album reflects his myriad influences.
Highlighted with jubilant scat singing, the opening track recalls some of Sting's eloquent pop/jazz adventures. Midon effectively employs his muted trumpet vocalizing on the bossa nova "Everyone Deserves A Second Chance," gets funky/reggae-fied on "Invisible Chains" and powers through the fiery fusion of "About You." And there's one of the album's most beautiful tracks, "Bonnie's Song," which Midon casts in an unusual 11/8 time signature.
"What's cool for me is I'll play something like 'Bonnie's Song,' and nobody except for musicians know it's in a weird time signature," he says. "It doesn't throw people that it's in 11/8, and maybe it's not something that somebody would dance to, but it's not off-putting."
Next up, in April he'll release his first live album.
"It's cool because as good as people think I am, I'm a big perfectionist in the studio and I like to go in and edit stuff, and that's not going to happen on this record."
* Raul Midon performs solo at 7:30 tonight in the MACC's Pavilion/Courtyard. Tickets are $33 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or mauiarts.org.
For his most recent recording, "Use Me," Americana roots musician David Bromberg turned to some friends for support. Suggesting they could either compose, produce, and/or perform on songs tailored to his distinctive guitar and vocal style, the acclaimed musician ending up collaborating with John Hiatt, Levon Helm, Vince Gill, Dr. John, Linda Ronstadt, Keb' Mo', Los Lobos and Widespread Panic.
Covering the Bill Withers classic as a title track, "Use Me" ranges from the country-rock flavored "Lookout Mountain Girl" with Vince Gill and Linda Ronstadt joining in on the soulful Brook Benton ballad, to Los Lobos contributing a Mexican-flavored waltz. The catchy Bromberg original blues shuffle "Tongue" features The Band's Levon Helm on drums.
"It was inspiring, they're all wonderful players," says Bromberg, who over the years has played with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jerry Garcia. "I've been lucky to play with wonderful players for most of my career. That they would not only play, but write a song and produce, it was very humbling."
An acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, Bromberg specializes in blues and folk with forays into bluegrass, ragtime and country.
He grew up absorbing a wide range of influences from the folk of Pete Seeger and The Weavers through Muddy Waters and Chicago blues and on to bluegrass of Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson.
Studying musicology at Columbia University in the mid-1960s, he was drawn to Greenwich Village's vibrant folk scene and was fortunate to apprentice with legendary blues musician the Rev. Gary Davis.
"I've been incredibly lucky," Bromberg continues. "I got to study with the Reverend Gary Davis, I got to play with Mississippi John Hurt and organist Jimmy Smith and I worked with Muddy Waters."
It was during his time in the Village that he met Bob Dylan and was invited to play on the albums "New Morning" and "Self Portrait."
"I was playing guitar for Jerry Jeff Walker and he used to come to the shows," Bromberg recalls. "One day I had a message on my answering machine. I thought it was somebody playing a joke. But when I finally spoke to Bob, he asked me if I'd help him try out a studio. He didn't say come and record, but he knew the studio really well, it was Columbia Records."
It was while working with Dylan that Bromberg met George Harrison. To his surprise, he discovered the famous Beatle had been previously taught one of Bromberg's songs by Dylan, and they ended up co-composing a new song, "The Hold Up."
"My manger invited me and George to his home for Thanksgiving dinner," he explains. "We ended up passing a guitar back and forth and without really meaning to we wrote the song. He played on the first recording of it, though I didn't credit him, and Dylan played on my first record, too."
Bromberg's association with famous musicians included becoming friends with Jerry Garcia and recording with members of the Grateful Dead. "Jerry and I shared a tepee at Woodstock during the rain," he reports. "We just sat there playing guitars and had a great time."
A year later Bromberg was booked to play at the British version of Woodstock, the marathon five-day Isle of Wight festival in 1970, which drew around 600,000 music fans to hear greats like The Doors, The Who, Miles Davis, Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Bromberg's positive reception at the fest led to his securing a recording contract with Columbia Records.
"The audience broke down the fences so they got in for free," he remembers. "At the beginning there were already 200,000 people there. An audience that doesn't pay is hard to please; they were booing people off the stage.
"I was playing guitar with a (folk) singer called Rosalie Sorrels and the crowd started to give her trouble. They were already very unkind to Kris Kristofferson who preceded us, so Rosalie asked me to do a tune of mine. The crowd liked it and they allowed her to finish her set. The promoters asked me to come back and do a set at dusk. They said, 'Do an hour of songs,' and I had never done an hour before, but I did it and got three encores. It was very bizarre."
These days Bromberg balances his time between performing and running a violin business.
"I stopped performing for 22 years," he notes. "I got burned out. I didn't want to be one of these guys who does a bitter imitation of something he used to love. I'm amazed that people still want to hear what I do. It's very satisfying."
* David Bromberg plays the Historic Iao Theater at 7:30 p.m. Friday. He will perform with Mark Cosgrove (guitar, mandolin and vocals) and Nate Grower (fiddle, mandolin and vocals). Tickets are $28, $35 and $45. Call 242-6969 for details.