What’s Wrong With Right
Proper American PRPACD004
“The Sound of Western Soul” is what it says on the inside of the CD jacket of the sophomore release called What’s Wrong With Right from The Hacienda Brothers. Give it a listen or two and I think you’ll quickly agree that it’s a highly appropriate, quick and dirty description on this group which is lead by a couple of fellows each of whom has earned plenty of stripes in the honky barroom wars over the years. Those two elder statesmen, who also double as founders of this band, are Chris Gaffney and Dave Gonzalez. For Gaffney, it has been a career that has yielded a half dozen longplayers of his own going all the way back to an indie EP from the mid-1980s with his band The Cold Hard Facts called Road to Indio. Here’s hoping it is considered a collector’s item because I’ve got a copy. In addition to that, Gaffney, who in addition to songwriting sings and plays accordion, has also spent time on and off as a member of Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men band. For Gonzalez, the chief calling card has been as front man for the San Diego-based rockabilly and roadhouse blues band The Paladins. Road hogs to the max, Gonzalez handles lead guitar duties as well as vocals for The Paladins. As the story goes, The Hacienda Brothers were born in Tucson late in 2002 while Gonzalez was in town hanging with his pal Mr. Gaffney. Always way too busy with his Paladins duties, Gonzalez did manage to find time over the years to write songs. Unfortunately, they always seemed to lean in a country or soul direction never lending themselves to the Paladins’ repertoire who built their rep on roots rock. In Gaffney, Gonzalez had himself a compadre whose songwriting also titled heavily in a country soul direction. Made for each other? Listen to the Hacienda Brothers’ self-titled 2005 debut, which by the way was a Compact Capsules Top 10 pick for that year, and I think it’s a unanimous hell yeah! The icing on the cake with that debut album was the band hooking up with one of the singer/songwriter greats of the Southern soul style in the legendary Dan Penn (“Dark End of the Street”, “Do Right Man”) who both produced the album and contributed a song. Now just over a year later, along comes the follow-up release. Put simply, there’s no sophomore slump anywhere in sight on What’s Wrong With Right. On the contrary, with Penn once again assisting on the production end, What’s Wrong With Right from the musicianship to the song selections (covers include “Cry Like A Baby”, “It Tears Me Up”, “Cowboys To Girls”, and “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”) and singing is every bit the equal of that first one, and then some. Brown-eyed soul songs, country shuffles, and even a slice Ennio Morricone-styled tunage ala the closing instrumental “Son of Saguaro”, this is music buoyed by plenty of big-bottomed twang, tangy pedal steel, and flecks of Tex-Mex accordion. In other words, What’s Wrong With Right is a lethal mix and clearly worthy of the designation “Western soul.” It’s also clearly worthy of your greenback dollar. Highly recommended. (Proper American Records, P.O. Box 34114, Pensacola, FL 32607, or www.properamerican.com)
The Hacienda Brothers appear at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts on Friday, July 14 opening for legendary singer and songwriter Dan Penn. The Iron Horse is located at 20 Center Street. Call 413-584-0610 or check the club’s web site at www.iheg.com/iron_horse_main.asp.
Jack Grace Band
The Martini Cowboy
In his performing home bases of New York City and Brooklyn, Jack Grace, a.k.a The Martini Cowboy, is clearly an anomaly what with his typical garb of weather-beaten cowboy hat and well-worn boots to go with a healthy set of muttonchops. His music follows suite, too. The fact that in the very decidedly non-country music outpost of the Big Apple and its surrounding boroughs that he cites as his heroes the likes of Merle Haggard and Doc Watson and has the autographs on his 1947 Gibson acoustic to demonstrate that allegiance is proof positive that this fellow ain’t shittin’ anybody when it comes to his love for real country music. Make that country AND western music. No frills, concrete honky tonk straight from the streets of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, we’re talkin’ watering holes like the Rodeo Bar, Lakeside Lounge and Hank’s Saloon where one can typically find the Jack Grace Band delivering its 100-proof country with supple sides of urban and western, is on the menu. A concept album of sorts, label the third release from Grace entitled The Martini Cowboy the equivalent of The Red-Headed Stranger, except for urban state of mind. Possessing a big deep and hearty voice with a touch of Cash to it, on The Martini Cowboy he and trusty band trot out 16 numbers divided into two parts. Part One is titled “The Quest” beginning with a boozy 15-second snippet titled “Martini City” before segueing into the autobiographical title track on which he sings of his love of the night life, the booze (“The martini so cold the glass was all frost”), the ladies, and the pursuit of romance (“The romance was strong, but it came at a cost”). In the end, the night life wins out and our protagonist is on a quest that takes us from yet another broken heart to facing oneself in the mirror after another night of excess to a mind-your-own-fuckin’-business of sorts of his love of the thoroughbreds and life at the track(“What I Drink and Who I Meet at the Track is My Business”). Part Two is titled “Finding Home” and it is over the course of these half-dozen songs that our main character begin to reel his life back in on songs full of substance and panache. Built upon a honky tonk foundation, Jack Grace is a top shelf barroom bard with The Martini Cowboy. (For information on the Jack Grace Band and The Martini Cowboy, check his web site at www.jackgrace.com.)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)