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Raul Midon: Meditations on Success and Soul
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Raul Midon: Meditations on Success and Soul
Raul Midon: Meditations on Success and Soul
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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Raul Midon's voice has hints of Donny Hathaway and touches of Stevie Wonder. His guitar-playing is sexy. When Raul Midon released his first album two years ago, it was met with a flurry of excitement from both critics and audiences. His new album is just out and it's called "A World Within a World." It's something of a new world for him. It's a change.

And he talked to NPR's Allison Keyes about the challenges and risks of reaching for a wider audience.

(Soundbite of music)

ALLISON KEYES: A live Raul Midon performance is an experience.

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: From his percussive guitar chops to his trademark mouth trumpet…

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: …to his ability to mellow-traditional R&B, soul and the Argentinean folk rhythms he learned from his dad. Midon always performs solo - no back up, just him and his guitar. This at the time when other artists rely on extravagant stage shows in which they're accused of lip syncing their own vocals. Sitting in his dressing room, Midon talks about the pitfalls of trying to get noticed in such an environment.

Mr. RAUL MIDON (Singer; Songwriter): It's easy to get off-track in this, quote, "pop music field" because people get elevated to, quote, "greatness." People get called artists that are not artists, you know? I try to keep my eyes on the prize - at least the prize as I see it.

KEYES: Raul Midon has been blind since he was an infant. He grew up in New Mexico. Midon says the prize, as he sees it, is the goal of becoming somebody that contributes something lasting to the musical landscape. Midon hopes his newest album, "A World Within a World," is part of that process. But it may surprise his fans. Instead of this Raul…

(Soundbite of song, "Pick Somebody Up")

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) I don't want to be nobody's fool and I don't want to take no one to school. I just want to pick somebody up.

KEYES: You get this one…

(Soundbite of song, "Pick Somebody Up")

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Here's my plan. Hope I can pick somebody up.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Pick somebody up. Pick somebody up. Pick somebody up.

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Pick somebody up.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Pick somebody up. Pick somebody up. Pick somebody up.

What we did was try to make a studio album this time and try to retain and keep, you know, the essence. And also more about the songs.

KEYES: As opposed to?

Mr. MIDON: As opposed to a showcase for my guitar-playing, which it still is but not as much. You know, "State of Mind" was more sparse in its production. And it was a lot more about - I mean, it starts out with, you know, "State of Mind", which is just, you know…

(Soundbite of song, "State of Mind")

Mr. MIDON: I mean, you can't add too much more to that.

KEYES: Midon says the arc of the new album is much broader. Sprinkled among the soul tunes are tracks like "Caminando."

(Soundbite of song, "Caminando")

KEYES: It's in Spanish. It's based on traditional music from Argentina and it is so not R&B.

(Soundbite of song, "Caminando")

Mr. MIDON: (Singing in Spanish)

KEYES: There's even an acapella tune on the new record. Midon says he wanted to pay homage to groups like Take 6 and Singers Unlimited. He and producer Joe Mardin built the track from this…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Do I get up every morning thinking today might be the day when my landlords stops calling and my luck's about to change. And all these bills that ain't been paid, I can forget. It ain't happened yet.

We just converted this arrangement into vocals. So this…

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

Mr. MIDON: We took these chords and…

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

Mr. MIDON: You know?

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Too root toot too root. Too root toot too root(ph).

You know, it took days to get all of these parts recorded. But it turned into this acapella, you know, monstrosity.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) I've been standing at the station. Even got on my Sunday best. And I got my revelation waiting on a Good Life Express. And I can't wait to get out from under all these debt. It ain't happen yet.

KEYES: You know, I'm interested in the lyric to that. Because I remembered, in "State of Mind." you talked about wanting to be rich. In this song, you talk a bit about the starving artist thing.

Mr. MIDON: Right.

KEYES: Do you want to rich? Is that what music is about for you at all?

Mr. MIDON: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MIDON: Hardly. I mean, I think when you go into the place where you say, okay, not only do I want to do music but I want to do it for a living, then art has to meet commerce at some point. And that's when things get tricky.

KEYES: Tricky for Midon means making music he likes that will sell.

Mr. MIDON: What I try to do is take the parts of it that I think have a shot at being, quote, unquote, "commercially viable." The parts of the music that I do and, you know, put those on the record. But you cannot make a record thinking about - I can't, anyway - thinking about is this going to play on the radio. If you do that, you're going to end up making a record that you're not going to like because, let's face it, pop radio is pretty bad these days.

KEYES: Midon says the narrow arena in which artists are forced to compete for attention on the airwaves saddens him.

Mr. MIDON: There's sort of a conflict. You know, people want to hear something new and something different. But what the sort of values of commercial radio hours - well, it sort of has to sound like the last thing that was a hit on the radio, which really nobody really wants.

KEYES: But he also says it's tough to tell the difference between what will sell and what won't. Midon says the way people listen to music now - putting the tunes they like into an iPod playlist - might actually be good for sales.

Mr. MIDON: I hope that people will listen to the record and get where I'm coming from and that, you know, it's music. It's music in that that it's not about genre. And I think people, in a certain way, are getting that now because, you know, everybody has their own sort of musical universe that they live in now - with the iPods and so forth, you know? People are living in their own musical universe. And so it's not so out of bounds to hear, you know, Madonna next to Mozart.

KEYES: Midon says the best way to hear him is to see him live - just him and his guitar.

(Soundbite of song, "Pick Somebody Up")

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Honey when you give your love to me, together we can make some history. Maybe it'll pick somebody up. Now, go along and get along and sell my soul. That'a ain't a way this pappa rolls. When I leave it'll pick somebody up. Oh, yeah.

KEYES: And he hopes that will convince audiences to vote with their wallets at the store or online for the other Raul Midon.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of song, "Pick Somebody Up")

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) That revolution is no solution to the tragedy of men. Here's my plan. Hope I can pick somebody up.

LYDEN: There are more sounds from Raul Midon's new album and from his studio performance at NPR on a new music Web site, npr.org/music. Check it out.

And that is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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