Stone River Boys – Love on the Dial (Cow Island, 2010)
Out of tragedy, new opportunities sometimes spring. With the passing of vocalist Chris Gaffney, the Hacienda Brothers were shuttered, and Gaffney’s partner, Dave Gonzalez, was left to seek a new musical outlet. As a founding member of the California-based Paladins, Gonzalez had explored rockabilly and blues, and crafted a reputation as an ace electric guitarist. His work with Gafney on three Hacienda Brothers studio albums refined his playing with quieter country and southern soul flavors. His new partner, the Texas-based Mike Barfield, cut his teeth leading the Houston-based Hollisters, folding together country-rock hillbilly twang, tic-tac train rhythms, and deadpan baritone vocals that brought to mind Johnny Cash and John Doe. After two group albums, Barfield turned solo, issuing the superb Living Stereo in 2002.
Barfield’s second solo album, The Tyrant, was heavier on the funk rhythms than his debut, and though elements of that remain in this new collaboration, its his background in southern soul, blues and swamp rock that makes him a natural fit with Gonzalez. This isn’t Hacienda Brothers Mark II, as Barfield and Gaffney are very different singers and songwriters, but the songs, including a few well-selected covers, draw on similar sources. Barfield reprises his cover of Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind,” which appeared on Living Stereo in more raw form. Here the earlier twin guitar leads are replaced by Dave Biller’s pedal steel and James Sweeny’s Hammond organ, and the entire track finds a deeper, smoother soul groove atop Scott Esbeck’s bass line. Barfield also revisits his own “Lovers Prison,” slowing it down slightly and adding more bottom end. It ends up sounding like a winning cross between the Buckaroos and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
The album’s most unusual cover is a take on Goffin & King’s “Take a Giant Step” that melds the psychedelic inflections of the Monkees’ original (the B-side of their first single) with the slow tempo of Taj Mahal’s 1969 cover. Barfield and Gozalez’s originals, written both separately and together, include southern-funk dance numbers, country rock, and most winningly, country-soul tunes that include the Gonzalez-sung “Still Feel the Feeling” and the co-written “Love’s Gonna Make It.” Barfield’s Texas sensibilities fit well with the Memphis influences Gonzalez picked up working with Dan Penn [1 2 3], and both fold perfectly into the duo’s country roots. Backed by a band that’s equally at home with twang and deep bass, the Stone River Boys are all set to burn it up on the road.