Big Red & Barbacoa

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Most bands fascinated with pop music of the 1960s and '70s approach their material with a light touch, but the men of Hacienda thankfully aren't afraid to put some muscle behind this sort of music, even as they celebrate its beauty and emotional power. Hacienda sounded precociously talented on their debut album, 2008's Loud Is the Night, and their sophomore release, Big Red and Barbacoa, confirms that two years of touring and writing new material have only sharpened their skills. Hacienda's fascination with the Beach Boys hasn't faded, and they can conjure up silky, heartstring-tugging four-part harmonies while working out arrangements that would do Brian Wilson proud during his sandbox period (cue up "Hound Dog" and "I Keep Waiting"), but as songwriters Hacienda are gradually growing into a voice of their own, and these 12 tracks are noticeably tougher, stronger, and more impressive than the stuff on Loud Is the Night. Hacienda are learning what to do with this material, and the arrangements behind the tunes are more imaginative just as the band sounds happy to have a real recording schedule for a change. As befits a band from Texas, Hacienda show a stronger Tex-Mex influence on Big Red and Barbacoa; "Barbacoa" sounds like a lost Sir Douglas Quintet track and "Got to Get Back Home" is a graceful Lone Star 2-step, while Dante Schwebel shows off some tough Link Wray-influenced licks on the rumbling instrumental "Big Red." This group also sound great on the tight, snappy rock & roll of "As You Like It" and the barrelhouse stomp of "Mama's Cookin'," demonstrating these guys know there's a big world beyond pop. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys once again produced these recordings, and he brings a natural, organic sound to the proceedings that suits this band's thoughtful approach. If anyone needed proof that the pleasures of Hacienda's first album were not a fluke, Big Red and Barbacoa has all the evidence you need, and from the sound of this album, the Villanueva brothers should be making more fine music for years to come.

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