Hacienda Brothers: 'Arizona Motel'
by Hal Horowitz- Jun. 6, 2008
Frontman and co-founder Chris Gaffney's untimely death in April 2008 ensures that Arizona Motel is the final release from this rootsy country soul quintet. Unfortunately the band was just starting to receive national recognition due to constant touring when Gaffney was diagnosed with liver cancer. At least they had time to record a final set and leave on a high note as this album is a logical continuation of the two previous studio projects and one live disc. Gaffney is in fine form, singing the majority of the songs and infusing them with his heartfelt honesty. Opener "A Lot of Days are Gone" is particularly affecting, especially in retrospect. On it, guitar slinging shotgun rider Dave Gonzalez trades lead vocals as Gaff sings "there was always time, but now it's slipped away" for a honky-tonk ballad that can also be seen as a moving summary of Gaffney's life. The legendary Dan Penn, who produced both previous studio sets, returns for five (of the fourteen) tracks. Two of those, including the closing "Break Free" which features one of Gaffney's most emotional vocals, he wrote. The rest are credited to the band who keep the sound appropriately stripped down yet not raw. The twangy R&B approach is best captured on the ballad "Ordinary Fool," a weeper that hits the sweet spot between genres as effectively as any in the group's catalog. It's highlighted by guest Joe Terry's (Dave Alvin, the Skeletons) piano, a subtle yet essential addition to the majority of these songs. The members get a rare chance to solo on "Light it Again Charlie," the only instrumental and one of the few instances where Gonzalez opens up on guitar. "Soul Mountain" balances between country, blues and gospel on an upbeat shuffle offset by the rest of the typically slower tunes. A few covers highlighted by Connie Smith's "I'll Come Running" and Hank Williams Sr.'s "When You're Tired of Breaking Other Hearts" pepper the disc, and Gaffney dips into George Jones' expressive territory on the tearful "Divorce or Destroy," but it's the originals that are most impressive. These songs, most co-written by Gaffney, Gonzalez and manager/friend Jeb Schoonover, capture the proud yet sad tales of protagonists who are broken hearted but not broken, down but seldom out. With Gaffney's world weary voice and a great band behind him, Arizona Motel is a poignant yet proud conclusion to the singer's musical legacy and a stirring way to close the book on this classy Americana artist.