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Serendipity, or maybe a lagniappe: Those are words that a fancy talker might use to explain how the Hacienda Brothers acquired the phrase “western soul.”
Ace guitarist Dave Gonzalez had been fronting the retro-rocking Paladins for years when he started gigging with Chris Gaffney, a vocalist-accordionist who led the Cold Hard Facts and also played in Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men. The pair, joined by a rhythm section and a pedal steel player, were playing honk-tonk country and mixing in vintage R&B and soul. Early on, they sent a tape to legendary songwriter and producer Dan Penn.
“Dan Penn’s the one who flat-out named us,” says Gonzalez, zipping in and out of cell phone reception as he travels through what he calls Center of Nowhere, New Mexico. “He said, ‘I sure like that demo you sent me. You’ve got that sound, that western soul.’” That sound is akin to country soul, a style that Penn helped put on the map as the coauthor of “The Dark End of the Street” and a hundred other cuts. Except in western soul, the steel and accordion come together to make something like a horn section.
Penn went on to produce the band’s 2005 self-titled debut, as well as the next year’s What’s Wrong with Right. For that record, they raised the soul quotient with covers of the Penn-Spooner Oldham classics “Cry Like a Baby” and “It Tears Me Up,” along with takes on the Intruders’ “Cowboys to Girls” (which Gaffney had also recorded with the Cold Hard Facts) and Charlie Rich’s “Life’s Little Ups and Downs.”
Like the band’s work with Penn and the whole western-soul handle, The Hacienda Brothers’ new live disc, Music for Ranch & Town, is another unexpected gift in a run of good fortune. It’s straight off a radio broadcast in Norway made when the band was playing a festival in Europe just after the release of the debut. The recording appeared more or less out of nowhere, but the guys realized that with just a tweak or two it was good to go. “It just dropped out of the mailbox.” Yup, serendipity.
The Hacienda Brothers play Hideaway BBQ Friday, Oct. 26. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show.