Hollywood may be its cultural capital, but parts of California are as real as Missouri or the Carolinas. Fans of Dave Alvin or Chuck Prophet may already have gotten this drift, but Jeffrey Halford’s Hunkpapa offers a more focused guidebook to abandoned oilfields haunted by the braceros who worked them, and the weathered wood and chipped paint of the motels and billboards bypassed by the freeways.
Pure California flows from “Black Gold” and “Small Craft Advisory” — the former a view of the “windswept towns” and “a time that’s come and gone” in the San Joaquin Valley, the latter a dreamy, lazy submission to the hypnotic lap and gleam of the sea, with Halford’s slide guitar playing over gentle waves.
Left coast hearts beat the same, though. Evidence is in the tender, fatherly “Radio Flyer”, a man’s past and future bumping and rolling in his young son’s wagon; and in “Lost And Found”, about the out-of-sync feeling that invades a relationship when the rest of the world intrudes. It’s “Memphis”, however, that bares the soul of Halford’s National Resolectric. Guitars crunch, the chorus rocks like gospel, and the track is altogether worthy of its name.
With guest turns by Chuck Prophet, the Gospel Hummingbirds, Myron Dove (ex-Santana) and Steve Bowman (ex-Counting Crows), Hunkpapa plays like an ode to California’s ’60s and ’70s radio stations that pumped a chugging variety of blues, rock and keening pop choruses. It’s a mix now as uncommon as the hand-crank gas pumps on old Route 66.