San Antonio rock quartet Hacienda have triumphantly let loose on their third album, Shakedown, by firing off a brisk set of ten deliciously melodic gems powered with heavy doses of guitar licks, soul grooves and indefatigable hooks. Hacienda and their particular brand of compulsively enjoyable, old-fashioned rock and roll are kindred underdog spirits to Billy Beane’s now legendary Moneyball baseball teams in this 2012 Autotune and dubstep mp3 pop landscape. That the San Antonio boys are such underdogs is a legitimate shame, because a perfect world would champion the ten songs of Shakedown up the pop charts like all the ‘60s gems that influenced Dante Schwebel and the trio of Villanueva brothers, Rene, Abraham and Jaime.
Hacienda is a band born and raised on the touchstones of family, brotherhood, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Booker T. and the MGs, and a multitude of other bands the current pop music scene would proudly borrow from in a 21st Century utopia. Because pop radio, Clear Channel, the major internet tastemakers and outfits looking to profit from Autotune technology all seem content keeping Hacienda and their vintage rock brethren miles beyond the outskirts of the pop charts border, common sense would say the Villanueva brothers and Schwebel will forever be resigned to being a loveable bar band. If that were to happen, Hacienda’s passionate, modest collective of fans would feel fortunate for the nights they get to see the guys play whenever the band’s relentless tours happened to reach their respective towns. Those fans would be satisfied snatching up Hacienda albums from the local Custard’s Last Stand independent record store and listening while few others take notice. Hacienda would be theirs to keep, but those fans would forever be baffled by the world’s failure to rally behind the band’s geniality, immense charms and perfect pop melodies.
Hacienda – “Don’t Turn Out the Light”
That’s run of the mill life for excellent, unheralded bands living album-to-album and town-to-town, and it’s the life story of most small market teams in big business sports…which brings us to Moneyball and the potentially fortuitous rise of Hacienda.
Even if Rene, Abraham, Jaime and Dante haven’t made a frenzied dash towards #1 on the radio charts, won a Grammy or received a 9.5 in a Pitchfork review (or whatever the pop music equivalent of chasing the unthinkable 20-game winning streak is in 2012), there is a deeply satisfying and special underdog quality about Hacienda and the music they play that meshes nicely with the glass ceiling, strategy and fateful ascendance that are all significant storylines in the Moneyball fable.
Hacienda are the music epitome of guys who are undervalued fundamental baseball players with the skills to play in the big leagues, but who are always written off by the veteran scouts and the major-market, front office check-writers with decades in the business. Those men with the money will always bet on the guys with the 500 ft. homers and the 8-figure salaries. Schwebel and the Villanuevas are a small market team who feel blessed making a living doing the thing they love most, even if it will be hell or high water before they get the recognition of the big money decision-makers pulling the strings, the Clear Channel airplay, or shot at the big-time selling out stadiums in The Bronx or L.A. The men with money to blow and the checkbooks could care less about fundamentals. They care only for the Next Big Thing and selling out those bloated stadiums with corporately licensed names.
The beauty about both the Oakland A’s Moneyball story and the Hacienda story (that is still somewhere between infancy and toddlerhood) is that both stories have the power to restore faith in the belief that fundamentals and strategy can compete (and possibly win) in a rigged business. The stories aren’t so different; Billy Beane hammered home the fundamentals of on-base percentage, walks and choosing not to steal bases, while Hacienda is rooted in the timeless rock and roll fundamentals of three-minute songs, verse-chorus-verse structures, crisp rock licks, shimmering pop harmonies and good vibes. The A’s faced a payroll discrepancy of $39 million: $114 million against the Yankees, while Hacienda faces the chasm of trying to thrive in an environment of tens of thousands of disparate blogs and independent radio stations with modest influence and overwhelmed attention spans in a wildly oversaturated market. On top of that, the looming giant that controls what handful of bands make it onto the radio owns 90% of the radio stations and chooses to limit its selections to the artists who sell out stadiums and hold out for 8-figure salaries.
The factor that made all the difference in the A’s story was that club had Billy Beane (or, if you will, an Oscar-nominated Brad Pit), a man who had been around the block, took gigantic leaps of faith and subscribed to the fundamentals of baseball. As fate would have it, Hacienda has Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
Thanks to critics’ praises of early Black Keys records and a fan base that increased exponentially year after year due to the band’s incessant touring and high energy, live rock and roll, Dan Auerbach’s name carried significant weight before he ever met the San Antonio boys. Auerbach and Hacienda’s paths crossed when the band approached Auerbach at a bar after a show. That Auerbach 1) asked the boys if they had a band, 2) asked them if they had a copy of the music, 3) actually listened to the band’s unfinished demo, and 4) believed in the promise of what he heard on that demo and saw in Hacienda is either a miraculous tale of fate or a magnificent example of Auerbach’s stalwart belief in true underdog spirit, the fundamentals of rock and roll, and its ability to survive in a time of decidedly un-rock-and-roll radio dominance.
From that point, Hacienda became Auerbach’s guys. He produced Hacienda’s 2008 debut, Loud Is the Night, and he enlisted the guys to be his backing band, Fast Five, on his 2009 solo debut, Keep It Hid. He went on to man the boards on Hacienda’s 2010 sophomore record, Big Red and Barbacoa, and he’s in their corner as producer once again on Shakedown.
Shakedown is the product of five guys who love rock and roll, play and write in a time-honored style, and love every ounce of what they do. They throw that love into making music that can stand alongside the touchstones they hold high, even if that very foundation seems to mean little to anybody else in the current music environment. If you don’t get any kind of thrill listening to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Zombies or The Black Keys, have no intention of grinning ear-to-ear during your daily commute while being engulfed by addictive melodies, proficient rock and pure vitality, or have little interest watching four guys with smiles on their faces play tremendously appealing songs in a small club, Hacienda probably isn’t your style. On the other hand, if any of that is up your alley, Hacienda and their stellar third album, Shakedown, could very well be your newest obsessions.
If you haven’t heard Hacienda until now, opening track “Veronica” will announce their intentions loud and clear. The album opens with a distorted soul groove and a thumping rhythm that you’ll recognize if you’ve been half as in love with The Black Keys past two records as the rest of the world has been. Once the chorus rolls around with the giddy “ooh ooh, yeah yeah” and breaks open with a thick guitar crunch, there is little doubt about the treasure trove of guitars, tight rhythms and inescapable hooks that awaits your ears with the goal of rattling around in your head all summer long.
Hacienda – “Let Me Go”
“Let Me Go” comes across like a ‘60s muscle car cruise down the strip on Friday night en route to the arcade as a growling croon channels a Iggy Pop/Buddy Holly hybrid. The beauty of it all (and the exceptional thrill of Shakedown on the whole) is how everything sounds here and now, not nostalgic. Even when Rene says, “Play it, Dante” and Schwebel twice dives in headfirst for a perfect George Harrison guitar solo, you conjure The Beatles and a perfect, involuntary smile rips across your face, yet the strides never forced. You never get a seed of a sense that you’re listening to four friends playing The Beatles Rock Band, although they seem to be having a comparable amount of fun.
Hacienda is the real deal. They have a gushing love for the greats, and they consistently bash out rock perfection without ever settling for mere homage. “Don’t Turn Out the Light” rides handclaps, keyboards and a Stax soul delivery for 2:50 of perfection. Shakedown’s first single, “Savage,” is a funky soul groove that shows Auerbach in total confidence of his skills as a producer. Between the five of them, Hacienda and Auerbach create an instantaneously catchy but deceptively complex gem. Harmonies swirl back and forth throughout the mix, the song rides a warm, rhythmic bounce, and the production sounds like Auerbach mastering every trick he’s learned alongside Danger Mouse while throwing in a nod to the indelible atmospherics of Combat Rock.
Hacienda – “Savage”
“Don’t Keep Me Waiting” is a perfect two-and-a-half minute rocker thundering away with a brutally tight Kinks rhythm and a guitar lick from the Gods. “Natural Life” is a delicious bit of sunshine-soaked, two-lane highway jamming that both The Beatles and The Band would have applauded in 1969. If you need yet another glaring example of how insanely catchy Hacienda can be, “Don’t You Ever” delivers the goods in every way possible. Don’t be alarmed if you go running for Botox faster than Barry Manilow when you see how deeply smile lines have carved into your cheeks. Hacienda closes out Shakedown by confidently shifting gears and building atmosphere on “Pilot in the Sky,” a mesmerizing seeker’s ballad that rides a resurrection groove all the way to pure transcendence.
It’s high time for the music world to take a hard look at Hacienda. Should that recognition ever come, surely they’ll accept it. If the majority of the rock and roll fans who testify at the altar of The Fab Four, pledge allegiance to Brian Wilson’s harmonies, and drop a few hours’ wages to see The Black Keys sell out a stadium end up spending a couple dollars on a ticket to a Hacienda show or bet on Shakedown, then Schewbel and the Villanuevas will be three states over, already miles down the road towards that unthinkable and coveted twenty-game winning streak.
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