There are many reasons to suggest an album has classic status, sometimes it’s an album with iconic status, by an internationally acclaimed artist, sometimes it’s an album that seems to encapsulate much of what we love about the americana genre. And it’s the latter with my choice this time, the 2005 debut release by The Hacienda Brothers, which has remained a firm favourite since purchasing the CD not long after its release. The band was formed in 2002, when friends Chris Gaffney (vocal and accordion) and Dave Gonzalez (vocals and guitar) teamed up with Dave Berzansky (pedal steel), Hank Maniger (bass) and Dale Daniel (drums). Their self-titled debut was produced by no less than Dan Penn, who contributed two songs, ‘The Years That Got Away’ and ‘Lookin’ for Loneliness’, a co-write with Dave Gonzalez, who is credited as sole or co-writer on 8 of the album’s 14 tracks.
Encapsulating a wide range of americana influences, including country, tex-mex, rockabilly, blues and soul, the band described their sound as ‘western soul’, but the glue binding the lineup together was undoubtedly Gaffney’s soulful and distinctive vocals, with equally distinctive twang guitar from Gonzalez and pedal steel from Berzansky. The mix of originals and covers is perfectly suited to this blend, with the opening track ‘She’s Gone’ a rewrite with a gender switch of the Melba Montgomery song ‘He’s Gone’, Gaffney singing “My life’s become a rolling stone/the wind and the sea/the mountains and the trees/all whisper ‘she’s gone'”, with a classic twang guitar solo from Gonzalez.
‘South of Lonesome’, with its trucker theme, was written by Melba Montgomery’s brother Carl, best known for his song ‘Six Days on the Road’, a live staple of many bands, including the Hacienda Brothers themselves, while the band delivers a full-on rocking version of ‘Mental Revenge’, written by Mel Tillis, and made famous by Waylon Jennings, but with their recording owing more to the Long Ryders version. A sensitive acoustic guitar led cover of Fred Neil’s ‘I’ve Got a Secret’ adds another strand to their eclectic offer.
The soulful side of the band shines brightest on ‘I’m So Proud’, a Gaffney and Gonzalez co-write with Ted Morgan and Jeb Bley Schoonover, a ballad which would sit well alongside the finest country soul songs of Muscle Shoals. Interviewed on the albums release, Gonzalez noted that several songs were inspired by the thought of writing for top country and americana names, ‘Leavin’ on my Mind’ with its tex-mex feel envisaging a cover by Waylon Jennings, and ‘Walkin’ on my Dreams’ a B-side cut for Willie Nelson. On the spirited guitar instrumental track ‘Railed’ Gonzalez recalled channelling Freddie King through a Bakersfield filter, while ‘Saquaro’s’ twang guitar and mariachi trumpet instrumental which closes the album could grace any Morricone spaghetti western.
Sadly Gaffney died from liver cancer in 2008, when the band had recorded two more studio albums, ‘What’s Wrong With Right’ and ‘Arizona Motel’, and one live album, ‘Music for Ranch and Town’, a fine but short body of recorded work, with their self titled debut at the forefront – a highly recommended listen.