By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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"Life's Little Ups and Downs," a song made famous by Charlie Rich but actually written by his wife, Margaret, perfectly encapsulates the working class experience. It's a song so closely associated with Rich that very few have covered it. Yet the song serves as the centerpiece of What's Wrong With Right, the exceptional new effort from Southern California roots rockers the Hacienda Brothers.
"I don't remember whose idea it was to cover that song," says lead vocalist and accordion player Chris Gaffney. "But it just seemed like a natural choice for us."
The Hacienda Brothers were formed two years ago by Gaffney, a former Golden Gloves boxer and longtime member of Dave Alvin's band, and Dave Gonzalez, the front man for the Paladins. The duo had admired each other's skills for years on the touring circuit but didn't decide to form a partnership until an impromptu jam session in Tucson at promoter/producer Jeb Schooner's house laid bare their shared vision.
"We found the right engineer and the right studio in Tucson," says Gaffney. "And the place seems to lend itself to a traditional western feel."
Once all the elements were in place (including the solid and subtle rhythm section of bassist Hank Maninger and drummer Dale Daniel), Gaffney and Gonzalez mined their nearly 60 years of combined musical experience and began their clever melding of classic soul and old school country and western, with an emphasis on the "western." In their hands, Al Green's humid Memphis night grooves and Marty Robbins' sun-baked Arizona afternoons are but two days in the same mythical town's weather forecast.
The Hacienda Brothers' self-titled debut, while uniformly good, was just a dry run for the masterful synthesis on What's Wrong With Right. Dubbed "western soul," the 13 tracks are emotionally deep elegies to times when music was more about the passion than the promotion. Besides stand-out originals such as the title track and "Midnight Dream," Gaffney and Gonzalez have chosen an inspired set of covers that work seamlessly alongside their own songs. Even "Cowboys to Girls," the classic Gamble and Huff chestnut, receives the patented Hacienda pedal-steel upgrade.
Dan Penn helped immeasurably with the direction of the record. Not only did the legendary producer and songwriter give his blessings for Hacienda Brothers to record his hits "Cry Like a Baby" and "It Tears Me Up," but Penn also produced the entire set and co-wrote the introspective title track with Gonzalez.
"Dan Penn is a sweetheart," says Gaffney. "There's no way this record sounds like it does without him."