Perhaps no independent label can match Koch Records-Nashville as of late when it comes to delivering the goods, hardcore country-style. Just last year saw the release of Austin honky tonker Dale Watson’s debut for Koch called Dreamland as well as the start-up of The Little Darlin’ Sound series. The latter reintroduces a mix of 1960s and ’70s classics and obscurities from the vaults of that upstart Nashville label. The year 2005 has started off with a bang with the debut releases from a couple of recent signees to the label in The Hacienda Brothers and former HighTone Records recording artist Dallas Wayne. Add to that installments four and five in the Little Darlin’ Sounds series and altogether it has the makings of a banner year for the label. Let’s take a look.
The Hacienda Brothers
Let’s start off by saying I was starting to think the Hacienda Brothers were one of those more-a-legend-than-a-band bands wondering when the group’s long awaited debut recording was finally going to see the light of day. With the release of the self-titled debut The Hacienda Brothers, the wait is officially over. Western Soul is how the sounds of the Hacienda Brothers has been described and it’s hard to argue that after taking in the dozen tracks comprising this debut. Add to that a producer on the order of Southern soul songwriting legend Dan Penn and such a description takes on even more meaning. The Hacienda Brothers were born in Tucson late in 2002 when guitarist Dave Gonzalez of The Paladins rockabilly fame was spending a bunch of time in that town hanging with another roots rock/country vet in singer/songwriter/accordion player Chris Gaffney from the Dave Alvin Band (as well as a collection of his own fine solo recordings). Always too busy with the Paladins, Gonzalez did find time over the years to write songs with country and soul the predominant flavor. Unfortunately, it was material that did not lend itself to the seriously rockin’ Paladins. In Gaffney, whose solo work with his Cold Hard Facts band has always dabbled in a highly soulful brand of roots music thanks to a voice primed for the occasion, Gonzalez found himself a kindred spirit. Now if you know anything about country-leaning soul music, the first name that springs to mind for this camp is always Dan Penn, the songwriter behind such classics as “Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Man” who has produced a ton of great Southern soul albums. In other words, for a group with a direction like that of the Hacienda Brothers, Penn, a good friend of Gonzalez’, was nothing short of the dream producer. In this case, friendship paid dividends when Penn signed on to produce the debut for the band after hearing a homemade demo recording Gonzalez had sent his way. So impressed he was by the soulful slant of the Hacienda Brothers’ country music that when he arrived in Tucson to produce the group, he came with a song already written specifically for Gaffney (“The Years That Got Away”). In all, the music on this winning debut is a classic Southwestern-styled country soul blend of guitar, pedal steel, and accordion to go with a solid rhythm section to propel the proceedings. In Gaffney and Gonzalez you have a couple of seasoned vets of the honky tonk barroom wars each of whom have logged 25 years in the music business. Combine that with a charismatic giant like Penn and it has all the potential of a can’t-miss situation. Listen to this self-titled debut and I think you’ll quickly agree that what looks good on paper comes across loud and clear on this album which is top notch from first track to last. (Koch Records, 1709 19th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212, or www.kochrecords.com)
I’m Your Biggest Fan
It has been four years since we last heard from honky tonker Dallas Wayne. After two fine longplayers of hardcore country music for HighTone Records, Big Thinkin’ released in 2000 and Here I Am In Dallas from 2001, Wayne fell off the scene. The dry spell finally comes to an end with the release of Wayne’s debut for Koch-Nashville titled I’m Your Biggest Fan. Performing professionally since the mid-1970s, the Springfield, Missouri native has used a distinctive, big-bellied baritone voice and a deft songwriting touch as his principal calling cards and parlayed those weapons into what has been a nearly 30-year run and some 10 albums. During that time, Wayne lived in such places as Nashville, Finland, Scandinavia (where he spent four years), Northern California, and for the last year, Austin, Texas where he currently resides. I’m Your Biggest Fan is Wayne’s 11th album while at the same time his debut for new suitor Koch-Nashville. Featuring accompaniment by legendary Springfield-based roots rockers The Skeletons along with the equally legendary pedal steel player Tom Brumley of Buck Owens’ Buckaroos band fame, the album presents a dozen signature, stone country originals from Wayne that move between straight-up barroom honky tonk and good timin’ numbers and all readymade for the longneck crowd.
On His Way
The Little Darlin’ Sound of Should Have Been Hits
All I can say is keep ’em coming. We’re talking about the Little Darlin’ Sound series launched by Koch Records-Nashville. The fourth installment of releases in the series have just been issued and each is a worthy addition to any 1960s and ’70s country & western connoisseur’s collection. This latest batch features the second collection of tracks from the cornerstone of the reissue label, the late Johnny Paycheck, and a various artists set featuring a grab bag of straight-up country obscurities from a cast of little-knowns.
The initial Paycheck entry in the Little Darlin’ series, which saw release last summer, catered primarily to previously unreleased recordings. This latest entry titled On His Way begins mining the wellspring of keening, hardcore C&W singles that filled beer joint jukeboxes and placed Paycheck right up there with the likes of George Jones for king of the honky tonks. As this collection clearly attests, ew could sing a country song with as much gut-bucket conviction as Paycheck. Only four of the 15 selections making the On His Way cut have seen release on CD before as part of the excellent and highly recommended The Real Mr. Heartache put out by the Country Music Foundation back in 1996 which featured Paycheck’s prime 1960s Little Darlin’ material. In other words, it makes On His Way a most welcome addition to any Paycheck fan’s collection. Included are classics like “A-11”, “The Lovin’ Machine”, “He’s In a Hurry (To Get Home To My Wife)”, “Heartbreak, TN”, and “The Meanest Jukebox” which was the follow-up to “A-11” and amazingly never did any damage on the charts. The set also features two never before released Paycheck recordings, “Everybody’s Got To Be Somewhere” and “The Wheels Fell Off the Wagon”, ech of which by its lonesome are worth the price of admission.
The Should Have Been Hits sampler brings together Little Darlin’ tracks from a collection of country performers whose success was at best on a regional level. In more cases than not, regional success was even a stretch for these more-often-than-not fine sounding obscurities for the Little Darlin’ label. There’s Jackie Frazier sounding very Paycheck-like on Paycheck’s “Jukebox Charlie”, current Grand Ole Opry house band member Hoot Hester from back in his early days delivering the goods with “I Still Love Her Memory”, Merv Shiner going for the sounds of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” on a similarly styled number called “El Bandito”, and the Woodward Brothers offering a nautical version of the hillbilly classic “Hot Rod Race” titled “Hot Rod Race, Navy Style”. Other doozies include Lee Howell with “Too Light to Fight, Too Thin to Win”, Eddie Reday with “Hurtin’ Loser’s Song”, Frank Myers with a killer tale of loneliness called “Half Empty Bed”, the off-the-scale “Everything You Touch Turns to Hurt” from Leb Brenson, and “Problem Solving Doctor” from Roy Weldon. Like I said, nary a household name in the bunch, but on a scale of one to 10, I’d give Should Have Been Hits an 8.5.