Various Artists: The Man of Somebody’s Dreams — A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney

various_themanofsomebodysdreamsSoulful tribute to Southern California roots legend

Chris Gaffney, who passed away from liver cancer in 2008, was a consummate musical insider. Though he recorded six solo albums, and co-led the Hacienda Brothers with Dave Gonzalez, his reputation remained strongest with among his fellow musicians and songwriters. His contributions as a member of Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men were sufficiently important to lead Alvin to temporarily derail the latter’s performances upon the former’s passing. Gaffney’s synthesis of country, roots rock, Memphis soul and norteño powered not only his own work, but all those with whom he played or who played his songs. His songwriting, singing and accordion took on varying shades as he stood out front, shared the spotlight with Gonzalez, or provided support for Alvin, but he wasn’t a chameleon, he was a straw that stirred the drink.

When Alvin temporarily sidelined the Guilty Men, he spent some time producing this rich, eighteen track tribute to the songs and spirit of his compadre. Many of Gaffney’s Southern California cohorts are here, including Los Lobos, John Doe, Dave Gonzalez and Big Sandy. Also included are leading lights of Americana singer-songwriting, including Joe Ely, Peter Case, Jim Lauderdale, Tom Russell, James McMurtry and Robbie Fulks. More surprising are appearances by Boz Skaggs and a Freddy Fender track borrowed from the Texas Tornados’ 1996 release 4 Aces. Skaggs might seem like the odd man out in this company, but his smooth ’70s soul sound is an excellent match for Gaffney’s Stax-flavored “Midnight Dream.”

Everyone here fits their chosen (or given) song to a tee. Gaffney’s accordion is echoed in Flaco Jimenez’s playing on “The Gardens” and norteño horns are heard in Calexico’s cover of “Frank’s Tavern.” Los Lobos brings a sad romanticism to the album’s waltzing title track and Alejandro Escovedo brings sad memories to “1968.” Jim Lauderdale, Robbie Fulks and John Doe each pour out a glass full of country tears, and Peter Case gives “Six Nights a Week” a roadhouse run-through. Alvin and Gonzalez sing their tracks as if they’re love songs to their departed friend, neither seeming ready to let go, and Dan Penn sings as a proud father who’s outlived his musical progeny.

Gaffney’s musical influences form a collage that’s mirrored by the collection of friends and admirers who’ve gathered to celebrate his life. The number of A-list songwriters who stopped by to sing a favorite from Gaffney’s catalog is a mark of how deeply his songs touch those who understand the nuts and bolts of songwriting craft. That the songs are so perfectly interpretable by others shows that their adoration is well deserved. The album closes with a previously unreleased Gaffney performance of “Guitars of My Dead Friends.” Leave it to a master to write the perfect capstone to his own tribute. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | 1968 Alejandro Escovedo
Chris Gaffney Obituary

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