Wednesday, April 14, 2010
– Austin's Stone River Boys will issue their debut CD, "Love on the Dial," on June 1 on Cow Island Music.
The Texas-based quintet features guitarist Dave Gonzalez, formerly a driving force in the Hacienda Brothers and The Paladins, and vocalist Mike Barfield, onetime leader of The Hollisters. Together, Barfield and Gonzalez created a crossbreed of country and R&B they've labeled "country funk."
The disc features 10 original songs written or co-written by Gonzalez, Barfield, Esbeck, and Biller, plus four musically diverse covers - the late Stephen Bruton's Bluebonnet Blue; a cover of Tyrone Davis' 1968 hit Can I Change My Mind; Gerry Goffin and Carole King's Take a Giant Step (recorded by The Monkees, the Rising Sons, and Taj Mahal); and Nashville hitmakers Jerry Foster and Bill Rice's Special.
Gonzalez said of the new group, "I feel really refreshed. We have a different take on the country side of things. Mike is a Gulf Coast country Texas boy, and at the same time, he's got this funky up-tempo R&B thing going. I'm working a new style of guitar that I've always loved, but I've never had the opportunity to play it. People are saying they love the new band, and they're glad to hear me playing a lot of guitar again."
"This is the first band where I've had a full-time steel player," said Barfield. "That's something in this band I like - there are so many voicings. It gives you what a horn section might do or an organ might do."
Gonzalez, Barfield, and Esbeck are joined in the current edition of the Stone River Boys by pedal steel guitarist Gary Newcomb and drummer Mark Patterson, who both played with Esbeck in Austin singer-songwriter Bruce Robison's group. The band will support the release of "Love on the Dial" with a summer 2010 tour of the Southwest and the West Coast.
The Stone River Boys' sound extends the direction of Gonzalez' previous band, the Hacienda Brothers, who recorded three studio albums with producer and country-soul legend Dan Penn. Gonzalez was partnered in the Haciendas with Southern California-bred singer Chris Gaffney.
After Gaffney was diagnosed with liver cancer in early 2008, Gonzalez organized a benefit tour for his ailing band mate, drawing musicians from Austin's fertile talent pool. One of the principal members of the touring group was Barfield, whom Gonzalez had known since the early '80s, when he fronted the top Southern California rockabilly band The Paladins and Barfield led the Houston bands The Rounders and The Hollisters.
Gaffney succumbed to cancer in April 2008, but the tour went on. "We went and did it anyway, and sent the money home to his wife Julie," said Gonzalez. "A buddy of mine had a recording studio up in Nebraska, and while we were out on tour, he invited us to come over there. We went in and cut a couple. I said to Barfield, 'If you want to do a record, I'd love to, man.' And we just started making a record."
Barfield said, "We really naturally just started keeping it going. The name of the band came from the first place we rehearsed for that trip, in this little subdivision in deep South Austin, on a street called Stone River."
"When I hooked up with Barfield, he had a whole pocket full of tunes," said Gonzalez. "I felt, 'We need to record these things right away.' We wrote a couple right on the spot together. He had a few that were unfinished I kind of helped him with. But he wrote the majority of the material on the record."
Produced by Gonzalez, the album was recorded during several sessions in 2008-09 with a band that included bassists Scott Esbeck (formerly of instrumental combo Los Straitjackets), Hank Maninger (Hacienda Brothers) and Kevin Smith (Dwight Yoakam), pedal steel whiz Dave Biller and drummers Justin Jones and Damien Llanes.
"Chris Gaffney was a great Western singer," Gonzalez said, "but he also had a knack for singing R&B and soul tunes, too. When I hooked up with Barfield, it was the same thing. He's a country bro', but he's a funky soul bro', too. In that sense, it does lean toward the way the Hacienda Brothers were. Dan Penn called our music 'Western soul.' Mike is real funky; I was telling everybody it's more country soul. Lately we've been calling it 'country funk,' because we've got a little more funk and a little more up-tempo material in this new band than we did with The Haciendas."
Barfield saw a natural connection between the sounds of country and R&B: "There's a picture of Solomon Burke and Joe Tex, and maybe James Brown, and they all had cowboy hats on. A lot of those soul performers will talk about how they used to listen to the Grand Ole Opry. Some R&B songs, especially the ballads, are very close to some of the honky-tonk ballads. To me, it's all very similar."