If there is genius in the Hacienda Brothers, it is in their ability to sound like a very old band. The Brothers' music has a patina of age not often courted by modern country. Chris Gaffney and Dave Gonzalez can sing like bourbon-soaked geezers with rusted voices who were rescued from oblivion by a record scout on a tour of lost Texas bars. They are not. They are relatively young men (Gaffney is a veteran of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men; Gonzalez is a member of the Paladins) with an ear tuned to history. Even the title cut from What's Wrong with Right, the Brothers' sophomore release, sounds like something Hank Williams might have found scribbled on a cocktail napkin one hung-over morning decades ago.
That Gonzalez and Gaffney hooked up with Dan Penn couldn't have hurt. Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham are the Gamble/Huff of blue-eyed soul. Penn and Oldham shared more than a few stages with Gonzalez and the Paladins over the years, and when the Hacienda Brothers project firmed up, Penn was tapped to help write songs and produce the band's first two CDs.
The result is a blend of R&B and country they call western soul, and it works -- not that the two genres are that different at their respective core in the first place. But the blend of country sensibilities and urban rhythms has helped the Hacienda Brothers master the sound of sad. Almost every one of their songs tugs at heartstrings of one kind or another. "Midnight Dream," "Keep It Together," a cover version of "Rebound," and a cover of Penn's "Cry Like a Baby" -- the tone caters to the sometimes darker human emotions we often ignore, at least until they come to visit. Measured out in country haiku with pedal steel flourishes and a solid R&B grounding, the Hacienda Brothers may be a contrivance, but they sound more real than anything Nashville has promoted for decades.