The Stone River Boys started out as an extension of the Hacienda Brothers, a country-soul outfit led by Chris Gaffney and former Paladin Dave Gonzalez and produced/mentored by Southern soul songsmith extraordinaire Dan Penn. When Gaffney was stricken with cancer, his bandmates went on a benefit tour to help defray his medical costs, casting funky Texas singer Mike Barfield in the frontman role. After Gaffney's passing, Gonzalez and Barfield began a new project that picked up where the Hacienda Brothers left off. Their debut album, Love on the Dial, blends soul grooves and country twang, just as the Gonzalez/Gaffney outfit did, but the addition of Barfield makes for a crucial alteration in the sound as well. Where Gaffney's lonely-man delivery slipped easily into slow-burning, Stax-style soul drama, Barfield has a funk orientation that pushes things into more of an uptempo, groove-conscious direction, leaning more toward, say, Archie Bell & the Drells than William Bell. And since Barfield's songwriting is as dominant a force on Love on the Dial as his big, bold vocal style, that makes all the difference. But the Stone River Boys aren't simply the Dap-Kings with cowboy hats -- the country element of the band's sound comes on strong, too. "Lover's Prison," for example, sounds like it could have come straight off of a classic Buck Owens album, but in fact it comes from the pen of Barfield. That almost-familiar feeling occurs throughout the album, as the band proves itself consistently capable of turning out tunes that summon the spirit of vintage country and soul without resorting to slavish imitation. They even take a song from a decidedly non-roots source -- the Goffin/King nugget "Take a Giant Step," originally recorded by the Monkees -- and make it feel like a certified R&B staple.
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AllMusic Review by James Allen