Take one of the most road-tested rock-a-bluesy guitarists in the game, the Paladins’ Dave Gonzalez, and add country/conjunto/Cajun soul man Chris Gaffney, and you’ve got the makings of something special. Add David “D.B.” Berzansky’s pedal steel, bassist Hank Maninger, and drummer Richard Medik to the mix, and things really start to gel. Bring in Memphis songwriting legend Dan Penn to produce, and it’d be hard not to come away with a great CD.
Gonzalez and Gaffney cooked up the idea for the Brothers in Tucson, Arizona, which is appropriate, because, while I’ve never really thought of a “Tucson sound,” this is like the musical equivalent of saltillo tile, feeling the heat coming up through your shoes, and having a plate of sun-dried carne secca at El Charro.
Like Penn, who composed such classics as “Dark End Of The Street,” “Do Right Man,” “Cry Like A Baby” and “I’m Your Puppet,” Gaffney’s singing is unaffected and soulful – as comfortable singing R&B as honky-tonk. Instead of shouldering the entire solo load in a trio format, as he’s done for 20-some years (and still does) with the Paladins, Gonzalez happily supplies a multitude of parts and textures, from Danelectro baritone to steel-string to Tele to Epiphone gut-string, playing more sparsely, as befits the scenery.
In addition to off-the-beaten path finds like Fred Neil’s “I’ve Got A Secret” and Dallas Frazier’s “She’s Gone,” the group has a knack for writing originals that recall country-when-country-was-great icons like Doug Sahm, Waylon Jennings, and George Jones without sounding imitative.
Penn wrote “The Years That Got Away” specifically for Gaffney, who handles most of the lead vocals. Gonzalez sings lead on the two-step “Leavin’ On My Mind,” with Gaffney breaking out his accordion and Berzansky adding tasteful steel. “Looking For Loneliness,” the most soul-tinged number of the set, is a Gonzalez-Penn collaboration, and singer/guitarist Teddy Morgan co-wrote “I’m So Proud” and co-produced Mel Tillis’ “Mental Revenge” with the group.
Dave’s two instrumentals add just the right flavor to complete the feast. The guitarist/composer calls “Railed” “Freddie King goes to Bakersfield” – with a baritone – and the desolate “Saguaro,” with Berzansky’s distant steel whines and Wayne Jackson adding mariachi trumpets, is the perfect closer.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.