Published on January 29th, 2015 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Mi Vida Loca’ – Chris Gaffney 
Summary: Chris Gaffney marries Tex-Mex rhythms with sly observations of humanity. He has a great band behind him, but his third record still plods along musically on the back nine. Gaffney’s pen, however, is sharp throughout.
Producer: Wyman Reese
Top 40 U.S. singles: 0
Notable Guests: Jim Lauderdale, Dave Alvin
There’s something about the plain-spoken Tex-Mex style of Chris Gaffney that nudges a man to reminisce.
His midtempo rhythms carry vivid wishes and well-worn misgivings. Grown-up vulnerability – not the typical tortured artist stuff – is burned into Gaffney’s songs like livestock is branded. When you listen to him, you sense you’re listening to a career musician. Don’t be surprised when you start comparing some of your experiences with those of the characters in Gaffney’s songs.
Gaffney never experienced a John Hiatt-like burst in popularity or commercial success. I sense that Gaffney’s albums were hard-won. I’ve read that he leaned on industry friends to complete them. He would never cut a Dark Side of the Moon because he didn’t have the luxury. Studio space was expensive. Sometimes it’s all you can do to merely get your ass in the door. Once the tunes are recorded, you simply hope for the best.
His third album, 1992’s Mi Vida Loca, smirks and sighs with remarkable focus. Later releases would feature famous friends like Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams and Ian McLagan, but Mi Vida Loca’s star power peaks with singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale. It’s Gaffney – and his crafty intellect – that’s front and center.
Take the opener, “Silent Partner,” for example.
From “Silent Partner:”
I’m living with a silent partner
She lives right down the hall
Nothing ever happens here
She don’t say much at all
If any fires should start to burn, if there’s any spark at all
It’s not too hard for me to see the writing on the wall
They say silence is golden
Not the way she puts it to me
There’s a silence that surrounds us
That’s stronger than the love that once found us
If I can’t talk to someone, there’s nothing left to live for
My silent partner wins the cold, cold war
Gaffney with his band, The Cold Hard Facts, in 1989.
The cover of Mi Vida Loca shows Gaffney holding an accordion and standing at the edge of a drained in-ground pool. Gaffney’s loose clothing matches not only the loosey goosey vibe of the record, but also Gaffney’s loose worldview and the latitude in his vocal delivery. I can’t think of a better image to introduce the album.
I spotted Mi Vida Loca recently at a second-hand music store. I paid $2.50 for it and listened to it as I put up my Christmas tree last year. I kept thinking about the opening sequence to Tin Cup – the old Kevin Costner movie. Mi Vida Loca is the type of music that Roy McAvoy would listen to.
The album ebbs with the rear-view sentiment of “Artesia” and flows with the blatant “Get Off My Back Lucy,” which chronicles the romantic mismatch between a lovable slacker and a high-strung girlfriend.
From “Get Off My Back Lucy:”
I ask you politely to back off a little
And give me a little more time
But you just keep pushing me into a corner
Each time that I hear you whine
Later on the record, “Get Off My Back Lucy” is matched in spirit with “Psychotic Girlfriend.”
The track “Psychotic Girlfriend,” from Mi Vida Loca.
Gaffney’s band, The Cold Hard Facts, play with a tightness that suggests primo bar band experience. Lead guitarist Danny Ott offers up one wiry Telecaster solo after another, while drummer and percussionist Tucker Fleming stays in his lane like rootsy drummers do. Meanwhile, steel guitarist Gary Brandin keeps the ensemble rooted in “country.” Gaffney’s accordion playing stays on the right side of irritating, the needle thankfully hovering around charismatic. His playing particularly augments “I Never Grew Up” – a song that closes out the album by slyly reconsidering the expectations of one’s youth.
Mi Vida Loca was produced by Wyman Reese, Gaffney’s keyboardist.
The record is its most accessible at “Six Nights A Week,” a bar-band style honky tonk about bar-band style honky tonks. However, Gaffney isn’t afraid to tighten up his lyrical subject matter, as he does with “’68,” a narrative about well-intentioned kids that enlist to go fight in Vietnam.
“Waltz For Minnie” is an eloquent toast, but it’s a shame that the record feels like it’s in slow motion by the time it rolls around to “Quiet Desperation,” the eighth and fourth-to-last song on the album. The tale of divorce and the toll that it takes domestically hits a raw nerve that so many artists find themselves skimming over.
From “Quiet Desperation:”
What will I tell the babies when they ask
Why mama had to leave her future and her past?
They’ve got to know they’re free from any guilt or blame
For me, I know this won’t be any children’s game
The title track is a scene-setting instrumental. The final track, “I Never Grew Up,” has Gaffney – and I don’t know how many of my friends – written all over it.
As pretty as they are when soaked in, Mi Vida Loca suffers from too many ballads on its back nine. As a whole, it loses resonance when it groups together too many songs of a similar tempo. If you have schizophrenic ears, this may lead to boredom.
It would be a shame if you tuned out some of those later narratives, but what can you do?
Gaffney passed away in 2008 of liver cancer. He had released six albums by the time he died at 57. He was one in a long line of Tex-Mex flavored alternative country artists that included The Mavericks, the Flatlanders and Mike Stinson. All of them were great, but Gaffney especially.
Chris Gaffney never got the credit or acclaim he deserved. I suppose that’s a common fear – that we do all we can and still don’t move the big needle.
Well, consider this a little acclaim. Better late than never.