Hacienda Brothers,
What's Wrong with Right
(Proper American, 2006)

The Hacienda Brothers -- a band led by Chris Gaffney and Dave Gonzalez -- operate on the philosophy that there's no difference that counts between old-school country and its rhythm-and-blues equivalent. It used to be said that r&b is country music for black people. It's certainly true -- for all the wretched racial sins of the Old South, where all of this music begins -- that white artists and black artists have always borrowed each other's musical ideas, even if (as was ordinarily the case back then) only because they listened to each other's records.

What's Wrong with Right, an almost absurdly enjoyable album, does nothing wrong and everything right. It starts with the choice of producer, the admired composer Dan Penn, who with Spooner Oldham wrote classic r&b-pop songs such as "Cry Like a Baby," "It Tears Me up" and "Dark End of the Street," the first two of them covered here. The title song is a Penn-Gonzalez co-write. The Haciendas also dig into the Charlie Rich songbag, reviving the deliciously Elvis-flavored "Rebound" and the pure country "Life's Little Ups & Downs" (actually written by Rich's wife Margaret Ann). They also pick up on Huff/Gamble's "Cowboys to Girls," a 1968 soul hit for the Intruders. And Gaffney and Gonzalez, exceptional writers themselves, create songs that stand proudly even in this elevated company.

Gaffney, a veteran of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men, and Gonzalez, formerly of the San Diego-based blues/roots-rock Paladins, recorded this in Tucson. It's surely sentimental twaddle to pronounce that this geographical circumstance accounts for the occasional Tex-Mex flavors here; after all, it's Southern Californian Gaffney who's playing accordion on the occasional cut. Still and all, it's a fine touch and one of the album's many pleasures, large and small.

Hank Maninger contributes electric bass and acoustic guitar, David Berzansky handles steel guitar and Dale Daniel hits the drums. Together, the five -- joined here and there by Penn (harmony vocal) and Joe Terry (keyboards) -- fashion a restrained, intimate sound, effective whether they're backing romantic confessions (most of the songs) or something harsher, for example Gaffney's bittersweet "If Daddy Don't Sing 'Danny Boy.'"

The album concludes with Gonzalez and Maninger's elegantly gruff "Son of Saguaro," an instrumental which -- were such movies still being produced -- would be a natural for the soundtrack of a spaghetti Western.

by Jerome Clark
31 March 2007

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