Hacienda Brothers: 'Arizona Motel'
When an artist passes from the world far too soon, cultural enthusiasts, fans and even colleagues often dissect their final work for clues, for another glimpse into the soul of the departed. Sometimes overreaching, sometimes bittersweet and insightful, it's natural to take the opportunity and try to apply some last splashes of color to the picture of a life the artist will never complete. Chris Gaffney would have been 58 in October; the Hacienda Brothers frontman lost his life to liver cancer back in April. If an analysis of the band's last album is to be believed, Gaffney lived a life full of color, spirit and heart. Not only is "Arizona Motel" an album full of beauty and a postscript worthy of the man who helped create it, it is one of the best country albums of the year. The intense beauty of "Arizona Motel" exists on many levels. The majority of the album was crafted at Cavern Recording Studios in Tucson and the band does a remarkable job of portraying the landscape of its birth. A trip through the Grand Canyon State can, in a matter of hours, take travelers from untamed, bone-dry desert to untamed, cool mountains. That refreshing wildness of spirit is represented in these 14 songs which sound as if they were written after many miles journeying up and down Arizona highways. Toward album's end comes two of Arizona Motel's best moments: "Long Way to Town" and "Break Free." Featuring a rare vocal from Dave Gonzalez, "Long Way to Town" features one of the record's best hooks and a joyful instrumental turn from David Berzansky. Were the song pressed on vinyl in the early days of rockabilly, it would have been huge. Today it's a true-to-form reminder of the power in a pure, untroubled sound.