Right on the heels of Wednesday's announcement of Vanguard's new Doug Sahm tribute album comes Yep Roc's tribute to Chris Gaffney, The Man of Somebody's Dreams. Ironically, it includes some of the same high-profile roots artists who pay tribute to Sahm: Dave Alvin, Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo. Gaffney was a Southern California barroom legend, the kind of player and man for whom the cliché "musician's musician" was coined.
Before he died of liver cancer complications last year, Gaffney had a long run as Alvin's right-hand man, road-dog compadre and accordionist, but he had forged a new musical identity with longtime Paladins guitarist Dave Gonzales in the last years of his life. Calling themselves the Hacienda Brothers and working with the legendary soul producer Dan Penn, Gonzales and Gaffney turned out two critically acclaimed albums of what Gaffney termed "Western country soul."
Chris Gaffney, Red Meat and Dave Alvin, "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill"
That term is a perfect descriptor for Gaffney, who had a voice that contained perfect proportions of beauty and sandpaper. A prolific writer, Gaffney's lyrics almost always hit like a hammer right below the solar plexus where the heart breaks. No one who's ever seen the end of a marriage coming will need an emotional roadmap in Gaffney country. Given its amazing lineup and stellar pairing of material to artists, The Man of Somebody's Dreams will likely vie for a spot as one of the top sellers in roots and country music in 2009.
Produced by Alvin, the 17-artist lineup reads like a Who's Who of Americana icons. Several tracks that stand out so far are those by Boz Scaggs (who's been largely invisible lately), a swaggering, twin-guitar honky-tonk version of "Six Nights a Week" by Peter Case, Calexico's otherworldly take on "Frank's Tavern," Los Lobos' quietly magical title track and Big Sandy's muscular take on the ironic "Silent Partner."
The Hacienda Brothers with Dan Penn, "What's Wrong With Right"
But in all honesty, for roots enthusiasts there isn't a single weak moment on this disc. If you're partial to blue-eyed soul, the Boz Scaggs track will knock your socks off. But perhaps no track typifies Gaffney more than "Lift Your Leg." Joe Ely finds just the right amount of wink-wink humor - and Gaffney was man of immense humor - for lines that lay bare the thinking of a chihuahua: "You gotta lift your leg a little bit higher if you're gonna run with the big ole dogs."
I only met Chris twice, but we got to have substantial conversations both times. In the business of writing about music, you don't run into many genuine princes like Gaff. The album will be available March 31.
Chris Gaffney, "Road to Indio" (the paintings are his)
Joe Ely, "Lift Your Leg"
Boz Scaggs, "Midnight Dream"
Los Lobos, "Man of Somebody's Dreams"
Dave Alvin, "Artesia"
Peter Case, "Six Nights a Week"
Tom Russell, "If Daddy Don't Sing Danny Boy"
Calexico, "Frank's Tavern"
James McMurtry, "Fight (Tonight's the Night)"
Texas Tornadoes, "The Garden"
Jim Lauderdale w/ Ollabelle, "Glasshouse"
Iguanas, "Get Off My Back Lucy"
Alejandro Escovedo, "1968"
Robbie Fulks, "King of the Blues"
John Doe, "Quiet Desperation"
Dave Gonzales, "Tired of Being Me"
Big Sandy y Los Straitjackets, "Silent Partner"
Dan Penn, "I'm So Proud"
Chris Gaffney, "Guitars of My Dead Friends"