Music

Various Artists: Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to Chris Gaffney

Chad Berndtson

Tribute albums this enriching -- this destined for longevity beyond the lark of their release -- rarely arrive more than once every few years.


Various Artists

Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to Chris Gaffney

US Release: 2009-05-26
UK Release: 2009-05-25
Label: Yep Roc
Amazon
iTunes

I didn’t really know who Chris Gaffney was beyond a much-mentioned obscurity I was told I should probably get around to checking out. Not being from the southwest, I was often let off the hook -- though not by X’s John Doe, who told me in an interview not long ago that my lack of Gaffney knowledge was surprising, if not outright embarassing. Well, look, that was before I acquired Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to Chris Gaffney, and where Gaffney’s legacy is concerned -- at least according to Dave Alvin, who wrote the album’s tender liner notes in salute to his fallen friend -- that lack of recognition is generally the case.

So three cheers to this meticulously assembled posthumous Gaffney glass-raising, right from the outset. Not only has it been enough that I’m ready to question my own music geek credentials, but Gaffney’s music and story are also ripe for rediscovery for esoterica hounds and country-in-all-its-forms nuts like your faithful correspondent. Chris Gaffney, who died in April 2008 at age 57 from liver cancer, is the country-rock cult archetype laid bare: a brilliant songwriter, mighty singer, and ace musician cut down way too young by illness and survived by famous friends who just want to see the guy get some friggin’ props so his legacy can have the security it never attained when he was alive.

It’s a respectable mission by any measure, and one that earns even the dreariest tribute albums admirable ratings -- it’s the thought that counts, even if the music sounds patchworked, hurried, or lukewarm. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. A Man of Somebody’s Dreams is first an expansive introduction to Gaffney as songwriter, second a collection of gem performances by his friends and contemporaries trying on some of the best of those songwriting efforts, and third, and most importantly, it's a catalyst for attuned listeners to get their hands on as much actual Gaffney as they can.

Tribute albums this enriching -- this destined for longevity beyond the lark of their release -- rarely arrive more than once every few years. Well, hombres, we’re not yet halfway through 2009, and, along with Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm -- which mines similar territory and includes many of the same musicians, even though Sahm was a far greater known quantity -- we have two.

Know this about Gaffney, or learn as much, as I did, from his songs and from his friends: he was a scrapper. Sahm at least got few tastes of fame and fortune; Gaffney was a toiler, perhaps best known for his role in Alvin’s Guilty Men, and less so as a sessions talent for the likes of Lucinda Williams, the Iguanas, and the Lonesome Strangers. I haven’t delved deeply enough into his more recent work with the Hacienda Brothers to make a definitive statement, but my favorite Gaffney album so far remains Road to Indio, the 1986 debut that positioned him firmly in the overlap among Bakersfield country, soulful rock ‘n’ roll, and norteno and other Mexican and Texican forms of pop.

Alvin started work on the album while Gaffney was still alive; its proceeds were to go toward his mounting medical bills. That Alvin saw it through to its conclusion and masterminded the song selection and artists for the album definitely shows -- everything’s a glove fit or close to it, from Joe Ely’s blast-off “Lift Your Leg” to James McMurtry’s ragged honky tonk sketch “Fight (Tonight’s the Night)”. Alvin gets a great turn from Los Lobos’s David Hidalgo on lead vocals for “Man of Somebody’s Dreams”, as well as from Peter Case on the lonesome yet defiant “Six Nights a Week”, Big Sandy and Los Straitjackets on a twangy “Silent Partner”, and Jim Lauderdale and Ollabelle on a tender “Glass House”.

Alvin claims “Artesia” for himself -- it’s an not-so-obviously devastating portrait of how the southwest’s unique geographical features are being obscured by strip malls and homogeneity. Elsewhere, Alejandro Escovedo makes pleasant “1968”, with John Doe on “Quiet Desperation”, and a mesmerizing “Frank’s Tavern” by Calexico rounding out the highlights. From Gaffney’s own bands, Hacienda Brothers partner in crime Dave Gonzalez checks in on “Tired of Being Me”.

The last track isn’t one of Gaffney’s songs, but it is Gaffney himself, quietly burning his way through “Guitars of My Dead Friends” by Stanley Wykoff. It ends the album on a sad note; after all the jubilance, poignancy and full-throated gusto with which Alvin’s hired hands attack the Gaffney catalog, Gaffney’s voice is forced barely beyond a whisper, and he sounds exhausted. A vintage, full-bore Gaffney wouldn’t have been appropriate though. "Look what you missed out on while he was here," Alvin seems to be saying, and no matter how astute you are at investigating Gaffney now, you still won’t get that chance.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image