NO DEPRESSION | by Robert Baird, September-October 2006

Live Show Review

Watching Dan Penn perform live was a masterful clinic in how great songwriters can also be great solo performers. At both of these NYC-area shows, the first two stops on a brief East Coast run opening for his latest producing project, the Hacienda Brothers, Penn's voice was limber and expressive, while his guitar playing was rhythmically forceful and precise.

Penn originals are among the most beloved of '60s soul classics, having been turned into hits by the likes of Solomon Burke ("Take Me Just As I Am"), James Carr ("Dark End Of The Street") and Aretha Franklin ("Do Right Woman, Do Right Man"). Clearly though, the songs' creator still knows them the best. At the Turning Point, after introducing "Do Right Woman, Do right Man", Penn paused, smiled, and said, "And there she is," pointing to his wife Linda sitting near the stage, "and we've been together for 40 years."

For longtime fans of the Muscle Shoals scene, Penn's wry tales between songs were an extra highlight. One yarn, told during both shows with impeccable comic timing, recreated his struggle to write the lyrics for "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man". Both singer Franklin and producer Jerry Wexler popped their heads into the room where he was working. "Whaddya got for me, baby?" Penn said in a hilarious, dead-on imitation of Wexler's clipped New York accent before shifting into Aretha's more honed drawl: "Whatcha got for me, hooooney?"

At the Turning Point Penn also sang backup with the Hacienda Brothers on two of his songs, "Cry Like A Baby" and "It Tears Me Up", as well as a co-write, "What's Wrong With Right", all of which are on the Haciendas' new record. At the early show at Joe's Pub, he couldn't repeat this bit of goodwill because he ended up stuck in New York traffic, requiring the Hacienda Brothers to open.

If Penn was all solo nuance, then the Hacienda Brothers were the band brawn. While their pair of records are solid, the Haciendas are clearly in their element as a live act. Built around underrated singer Chris Gaffney and former Paladins guitarist Dave Gonzalez, the muscular band was propelled by drummer Dale Daniel, bassist Hank Maninger and outstanding pedal steel prodigy David Berzansky, whose solos were spry and clever every time he cut loose.

The Haciendas work in a hybrid they call western soul, a blend of rhythms and feel of Muscle Shoals melded with the pedal steel and overall mood of honky-tonk country. Highlights of both shows included the mid-tempo "Midnight Dream", with guitar and pedal steel lines doubled to great effect, and "The Last Time" ("this time is last time we're through"). The wild pitch was Philly-soul Gamble & Huff anthem, "Cowboys To Girls", which Gaffney nailed both nights. Western or not, it was definitely soul.