Hacienda Brothers, "Hacienda Brothers" (Koch): Take a group featuring criminally neglected country singer-songwriter Chris Gaffney and Paladins guitar monster Dave Gonzalez, then toss them into the studio with super-soul songwriter-producer Dan Penn at the helm (he's written "Do Right Man," "I'm Your Puppet," "Dark End of the Street" and "The Letter," to name a few), and you naturally assume momentous music will result, but the Bros. debut CD actually exceeds even the loftiest expectations.
Wisely, Gaff assumes center-stage with his best-ever-recorded vocal performances; an expansive, vibrato-rich, wounded baritone that can take your heart and crush it under the mud-caked heel of his cowboy boot. Gonzo's guitar playing - heretofore a hot flash of blues lightning with a Ph.D. from the Stevie Ray Vaughan Academy - is surprisingly, tastefully, subdued in service of the songs, but his twanging baritone ax-work is a revelation, like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack played under a desert moon while chugging mescal.
The wealth of original songs by Gaff, Gonz and Penn, alone or as a team, are uniformly gorgeous and moving (as are the harmony vocals), presented nicely with well-chosen covers (Fred Neil, Mel Tillis, etc).
Although there are R&B and Tex-Mex influences afoot, this is very much a trad country album, and if a better one comes along this year, I'll eat my durn Stetson.