DALLAS -- Raul Malo paused and peered up into the darkness.
"I want to know how this got preserved," he said, gesturing at the room around him. "Because most of the time, they turn 'em into Walgreens. These are my favorite places to play."
Like the Granada Theater of which he spoke, Malo is similarly sui generis, a singular talent without peer in modern music. The former Mavericks frontman spent 90 minutes Friday night showcasing the breadth of his fluid style, veering between hopped-up, roadhouse rock 'n' roll ( San Antonio Baby) and passionate, Latin-laced ballads (a magnificent cover of Rodney Crowell's 'Til I Gain Control Again) that made full use of his expressive, vivid baritone.
The initially sedate, albeit sizable, audience loosened up over the course of the evening, not unlike Malo and his four-piece band. The singer-songwriter front-loaded his eclectic set with material from his new album, Sinners & Saints, which hits stores Tuesday. He acknowledged that the crowd probably wasn't familiar with much of it, so he dispensed with it early.
Once the obligatory songs were past, Malo and his ace backers hit a groove and didn't look back. By evening's end, people were dancing in the aisles, spinning one another and reveling in Malo's dazzling display.
Malo, a technician with the gift of feel -- one needs only to look at the fret of his electric guitar and watch his fingers dance over the strings -- folds a variety of idioms into his songs, often within a single tune. That slippery tendency to cheerfully ignore easy definition is what's likely kept Malo from breaking through to a wider audience. For those who know, however, his studied indifference to stylistic boundaries also makes him one of music's most treasured practitioners.
Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic,