David McClister
March 24, 2017 at 09:30 AM EDT

“What kind of music do The Mavericks record?” is a question with no real answer. On the one hand, the Miami-bred outfit records bits of everything: Elvis Presley-esque rock, Roy Orbison-style balladry, Latin-fusion party tunes, throwback country, irresistible pop. On the other hand, what The Mavericks record defies categorization entirely; a vocabulary for their style remains out of reach.

Lead singer and creative leader Raul Malo, 51, laughs at the posed problem — it’s a line of questioning he’s fielded before. “It’s kind of like how I feel about baseball,” he tells EW. “People always ask, ‘What’s your favorite team?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t have a favorite team! I just love baseball!’ I never wanted to play just one kind of music.”

The group has been perfecting their blend since they debuted in 1991, and today, EW is thrilled to premiere their ninth studio LP, Brand New Day, a week ahead of its release.

Two-plus decades into their career, the Grammy-winning band experienced several firsts while crafting the vibrant set. After three releases on Nashville powerhouse Big Machine Records’ Valory imprint, Day is dropping via the band’s own label, Mono Mundo Recordings. Being their own bosses allowed the group to record songs in small batches throughout the year, whenever Malo felt like they’d written something worth cutting. “I loved that process,” he admits of the shake-up. “It gave us time to self-edit and re-write and think about the music and the lyrics. [We] had time to live with the music.”

This outing also marks the quartet’s first full album cycle without founding member Robert Reynolds. In December 2014, the group announced that due to Reynolds’ continued struggle with opiate addiction, he would no longer be part of The Mavericks. Malo is solemn when discussing the subject. “The experience now is, unfortunately, far more positive,” he says. “When you’re dealing with that, it’s such a distraction and it’s so painful. When you no longer have that, it’s really kind of liberating and empowering… I wish that wasn’t so and we all wish that his story would have ended right alongside ours.”

That newfound freeness is reflected, strongly, across Day‘s 10 tracks. The set is, at times, bombastic (“Brand New Day”), cheeky (“Rolling Along”), sexy (“Damned (If You Do)”), remorseful (“Goodnight Waltz”), and romantic (“I Will Be Yours”). The flow between each is unapologetically reckless and wonderful.

The centerpiece of the collection arrives in the form of “Wish You Well,” a stunning tribute Malo wrote last year to his father, who died during the recording process. “What is there left to say between a father and son after 50 years together on the planet?” he says, speaking of what guided his pen. “The only thing that I could say at the point was, ‘I wish you well. I know you’re going somewhere.’”

His father had been in poor health and Malo was in a hurry to cut the track. The recording listeners hear below was done live with the whole band in one take. The singer barely makes it through the final lines; his voice cracking over the last notes, ever-so-slightly off-pitch. It’s devastating — and also a marker of the exact moment his father died. He and the rest of the group wouldn’t find out until afterward, when they noticed a slew of missed calls across their cell phones. “It was my wife calling from the house to say my dad had just passed,” he recalls. Malo finds peace, he says, knowing, “We sang him into his next place. It was a really heavy, beautiful moment.”

Brand New Day is streaming exclusively on EW below. It is currently available for pre-order. All announced tour dates are available on the band’s website.

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