I wish I had heard of the alternative, country-rock band Hacienda Brothers before last week because they're already gone. The short-lived group broke up when lead singer Chris Gaffney died of liver cancer in 2008. Gaffney's death meant the quintet had only a three year recording career. Between 2005 and 2008 they delivered three studio CDs and a limited edition live disc.
Based out of Tucson, Arizona, Gaffney and lead guitar player Dave Gonzalez formed a talented outfit that combined their country roots with some top notch R&B to create what they called "Western soul." They were once described as the best of their genre since The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Gaffney's voice was definitely soulful and he could have been an R&B singer if he had chosen that direction. By the time he and Gonzalez worked together the former had already earned a reputation as a fine songwriter who toured with The Blasters' Dave Alvin. He also led an outfit called The Cold Hard Facts.
Gonzalez, another songwriter who sang lead on a few Hacienda Brothers tunes when Gaffney did not, was previously best known for playing with the roots-rock band, The Paladins.
Gonzalez and Gaffney's supporting cast included bassist Hank Maninger and an excellent steel guitar player in David Berzansky. Dale Daniel rounded out the lineup on drums.
Hacienda Brothers' eponymous debut arrived in 2005 and was followed with What's Wrong With Right the following year. Both CDs were produced by Dan Penn, the highly regarded songwriter and producer who has written many hit records and worked with Alex Chilton and The Box Tops on "The Letter" way back in 1967.
On What's Wrong the group's Western soul label is right on target. Gaffney's lead vocal on The Box Tops' oldie "Cry Like A Baby" (written by Penn and Spooner Oldham) is absolutely perfect.
The Intruders' "Cowboys to Girls," another 60s hit written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, is a second unblemished fusion of urban, Philly Soul with the Mojave Desert. It has more soul than twang until Berzansky unleashes a very tasteful steel guitar solo.
Another Penn–Oldham collaboration that was turned into a minor hit by Percy Sledge, "It Tears Me Up," is on the set list too.
Most of the rest of the thirteen songs are band originals with only a little less soul and a touch more country but fans of both genres should still find something interesting in all of it.
After this fine disc Hacienda Brothers released a live CD and their final studio effort, Arizona Motel, in 2008 that did not hit the streets until after Gaffney's unfortunate passing.
Buy What's Wrong With Right from Amazon.