As I write this, Memorial Day weekend is six weeks away, but it’s good to know I’ve already got one album ready to cue up at my ‘cue: Big Red and Barbacoa, the sophomore album from Texas four-piece Hacienda. Owing more to the Beach Boys and fake British Invader Doug Sahm than BBQ-infused honky tonk, and ably guided by producer/Black Key Dan Auerbach, Hacienda are capable of making the sunshine pour through your speakers with their warm vibe and glowing harmonies.
As musical patrons go, Auerbach, who also produced the band’s 2008 debut, Loud Is the Night, is a great match for the band; they may not share his proclivity for hip-hop (at least to date on record), but their flair for pop/blues/Americana pairs well with Auerbach’s retro sensibilities. (In fact, Auerbach recruited the band—brothers Abraham, Jaime, and Rene Villanueva, with their cousin Dante Schwebel—to serve as his backing band during his solo tour for 2009’s Keep It Hid.) More muscular and confident than Loud Is the Night from the get-go, opener “Who’s Heart Are You Breaking” [sic] sets the mood: a friendly barroom stomp (despite the title) crossed with the well-crafted Beatles pop songsmithery—much like their frequent tourmates and fellow late-‘60s/early-‘70s rock fetishists Dr. Dog. “I Keep Waiting”, with its strong vocal harmony and 2:57 runtime, will invariably prompt a letter from Brian Wilson demanding royalties, but, to be sure, it’s an original. Meanwhile, the title track gets split into two: side-A closes with “Big Red”, a jazzy/surf-y/spy movie outtake, while “Barbacoa” ends the album on a jaunty note, anchored by a roller-rink organ riff and a sense that things are just getting started. Damn if these guys don’t have 1965-1970 down cold.
Interestingly enough, Hacienda also know their way around pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll: they unearth the Everlys’ lost classic “You’re My Girl”, turning it into a brash psych rocker (with harmony, natch!), and even dig further back to craft their own updated prison blues lament, “The Prisoner”, all “whoa-oahs” and handclaps. And just to make the jump around the calendar complete, they do their best impression of the ‘80s college rock bands that found inspiration in ‘50s rockabilly, country, and border music: the Knitters-y oompah-pah carousel “Got to Get Back Home”; the Blasters’ roots-rock revivalism of “Mama’s Cookin’”, and How Will the Wolf Survive?-era Los Lobos on “As You Like It”.
It’s a dizzying, winning recipe that the Villanuevas have cooked up on Big Red and Barbacoa (and hopefully the record’s not too damned by all my namechecking, now that I go back and read what I’ve written), by a band that’s clearly in love with rock ‘n’ roll—no matter when it was released—and the sounds of summer.