Stone River Boys: Love on the Dial

RIYL: The Vaughan Brothers, Southern Culture on the Skids, Hacienda Brothers, Los Lobos

Guitarist Dave Gonzalez (Hacienda Brothers) and singer Mike Barfield, the core of Austin’s Stone River Boys, came together in 2008 when Gonzalez recruited musicians for a benefit tour to help raise money for his ailing Hacienda Brothers bandmate, singer Chris Gaffney. Gaffney was battling cancer and Gonzalez recruited musicians from Austin’s fertile talent pool, including Barfield, nicknamed “the Tyrant of Texas Funk.” Sadly, Gaffney succumbed to the disease, but the tour continued with proceeds being sent to Gaffney’s widow. Along the way, Gonzalez and Barfield began writing songs and eventually started laying down tracks while on the road. The good karma from the Stone River Boys’ noble gesture is evident as their debut album, Love on the Dial, is one of the most lively collections of music you’ll hear this season. Perfect for barbecues and games of cornhole; or just hanging out with your baby trying to stay cool (or heat things up) on a hot summer night.

A cover of Stephen Bruton’s “Bluebonnet Blues” propels the album forward like a sturdy old Ford and sets the tone of an album that crosses traditional country music with Texas blues and ’60s soul music for a hybrid  the Boys like to call country funk. The sound is best exemplified in “Can I Change It,” which blends a Steve Cropper guitar lick with a steel guitar playing like a horn section, and “The Struggle,” which brings to mind the Fabulous Thunderbirds in their ’80s heyday.

Elsewhere, the band adopts more traditional country sounds, such as “Lovers Prison” and the lovely “40 Acres,” a heartfelt lament of times gone by. The highlight of the record may be their cover of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King classic, “Take a Giant Step.” Fusing country, soul and a surf guitar twang, they create a magical, dreamlike song, something you’d expect to hear from Chris Isaak or Los Lobos.

The combination of Barfield’s voice and Gonzalez’s guitar playing have created  unique group. Barfield sings with bravado and a sincerity that seems lacking in so much of the slick country music that gets radio airplay. Meanwhile, Gonzalez’s guitar slinging is sharp and economical. When he needs to, he can put on a display of fast fingerwork, but he is such a fine musician that he knows when the song calls for fireworks and when it requires something more subdued. (Cow Island 2010)

Stone River Boys MySpace Page
Click to buy Love on the Dial at Amazon