CD Review of The Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney by Various Artists
Various Artists: The Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney
Recommended if you like
Dave Alvin, Tom Russell, Joe Ely
Label
Yep Roc
Various Artists:
The Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

A
dmittedly, Chris Gaffney wasn’t as widely known as many of those artists who came to admire him. Even so, he was a seminal figure in rootsier realms, a singer/songwriter whose seamless blend of Tex Mex, Rock, Country, and R&B combined into a unique hybrid. Over the years, he released a number of critically acclaimed albums, both on his own and as half the duo known as the Hacienda Brothers, but sadly, he never quite achieved the recognition and acclaim accorded many of his contemporaries.

Appropriately then, Gaffney’s longtime friend and producer Dave Alvin conceived the idea of assembling a tribute album that would help defray Gaffney’s mounting medical costs after he was diagnosed with liver cancer. When Gaffney succumbed to the disease last year, the project became more of a memorial, one that will hopefully bring that belated recognition. Given the all-star roster Alvin’s gathered for the purpose, it seems likely that goal will soon be achieved.

Not surprisingly, most of the participants enlisted here were either musical associates or musicians who shared both his Hispanic heritage and his stylistic sensibilities. Consequently, the list includes a number of those who achieved a similar crossover appeal – Alejandro Escovedo, Freddy Fender, Los Lobos and Dave Gonzales, his onetime partner in the Hacienda Brothers, among them. Nevertheless, what becomes overwhelmingly evident through these heartfelt interpretations is the level to which Gaffney’s music transcended specific genres or easy categorization. It only takes a handful of songs to affirm that disparity, from the rollicking honkytonk unleashed in Joe Ely’s version of "Lift Your Leg Up" and the rockabilly rave-up fostered in Big Sandy’s collaboration with Los Straitjackets, "Silent Partner," to Boz Scaggs’ assuredly soulful "Midnight Dream" and the gentle Tex Mex sway inherent in Los Lobos’ rendition of the title track.

The variation in motif doesn’t end there either. Tom Russell turns in a sturdy take on the tattered Irish-infused ballad "If Daddy Don’t Sing Daddy Boy," while Calexico add an ethereal ambiance to "Frank’s Tavern," and in the process, offer one of their most accessible performances in recent memory. And though Dave Alvin’s personal reflections of Gaffney – as conveyed in the spoken intro to the lovely, sprawling "Artesia" – make this exceptional testimonial all the most meaningful, ultimately, the most poignant moment comes with the final song of the set, as Gaffney himself strums a forlorn lament titled "Guitars of My Dead Friends."

"The guitars of my dead friends offer silent witness,
The guitars of my dead friends remind me of the distance of where it all ends."

Turned inward, though unintentionally, the sentiments become all the more inescapable and by degrees, that much more affecting.

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