Ironies abound in the music industry and the ones involving the death of a musician are often the most poignant. Chris Gaffney is the latest and most heartrending case in point. The well-travelled solo artist/Dave Alvin sideman/Hacienda Brothers front man was diagnosed with liver cancer just as he was beginning to get more recognition for his long and storied career, which began with his first solo albums for HighTone in the mid- to late '80s. And Gaffney's tragic passing back in April came just weeks before the release of his last and best work with the Hacienda Brothers, the western soul band he formed five years ago with former Paladins guitarist Dave Gonzalez.
The fourth and final Hacienda Brothers album perfects everything that Gaffney and the band had blueprinted on their previous two studio albums (and brought to magnificent life on their live album, last year's "Music for Ranch & Town"). Featuring production from legendary boardsman Dan Penn on four tracks, this may well stand as the best work in Gaffney's diverse and long discography simply because it seems to draw on all of the sounds and styles that he touched in his career. The smooth Western swing of the Hank Williams Jr. classic "When You're Tired of Breaking Other Hearts" could be a lost Louvin Brothers B-side, the quietly incendiary blues instrumental "Light it Again Charlie" wouldn't have been out of place in a Fabulous Thunderbirds or Doug Sahm set. The gospel country soul sway of "Use to the Pain" has the feel of Jimmy Webb at his Nashville best, and the gospel blues choir jump joy of "Soul Mountain" is Western testifying at its very finest.
Fans can still assist and comfort Gaffney's family (visit www.helpgaff.com); let the healing begin with putting the Hacienda Brothers' swan song on the charts.