Winter is now officially over and the new Spain album will make you feel like contemplating the world on a gentle summer’s evening. After a break of two years, Josh Haden is back and caresses us again with his warm voice. Carolina is an invitation to sit at Haden’s dinner table and look back at his past. “I wanted to get back to my musical family roots of country and of my dad who passed away two years ago. This is the first album I released since my dad died.” Charlie Haden was the most significant contrabassist of the 20th century and helped define the style of Free Jazz. He passed away in Los Angeles in July 2014, only a few weeks before his 77th birthday. Josh’s father had been involved in all the previous recordings, as a musician as well as a mentor: “If he doesn’t approve, I usually have to go back and fix the mixes.”
Spain, the band that influenced the genre of slowcore with their very own interpretation of slowness, have kept us waiting once before. After the band’s debut The Blue Moods Of Spain in 1995 and extensive touring through the USA, Australia and Europe, they gathered a large international following. The first album was followed by She Haunts My Dreams (1999) and I Believe (2001). The music of Spain was featured on soundtracks for movies (The End Of Violence directed by Wim Wenders, 1997) and TV series (Six Feet Under, HBO 2003) and was covered by Johnny Cash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers among others. It then went quiet for a couple of years after which front man Josh Haden reunited the band with different members. In 2012 they released The Soul Of Spain, their first album on Glitterhouse Records. It was followed by The Morning Becomes Eclectic Session, a live session at the brilliant KCRW radio station in Santa Monica, and their fifth album Sargent Place, also released on Glitterhouse Records and on Dine Alone Records in the U.S.
The latest album Carolina was recorded by a handful of carefully selected musicians. One of them is Kenny Lyon, a musical shape-shifter, who during the past 40 years has played with acts such as Lemonheads, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Joe Walsh and NoFX. Besides the acoustic and electric guitar, he plays keyboards and piano as well as banjo, lap and pedal steel, which define the alt-country and Americana style. “On previous albums I felt I was writing and releasing too many music genres in the same project.” Instead Carolina is very concentrated and straight forward. “In other words, a little different from past Spain albums.” Haden admits.
Kenny Lyon produced, engineered and mixed the album. It was recorded at his studio at the Gaylord apartments in Los Angeles. The Gaylord is quite a famous historical building. Haden’s father watched Ornette Coleman for the first time in the club around the corner and Robert Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel across the street. A place steeped in history for an album with hindsight.
Even though Josh Haden is a man of the present, his songs look back on the life of his ancestors in the 1930s: “My grandfather was a very compassionate man but he was also very stoic and we never saw him cry, except when he told us about growing up during the Great Depression.” (“The Depression”). He recounts the Farmington Mine Disaster in 1968 from the point of view of a miner (“One Last Look”). The violin, played by his sister Petra Haden, makes the collapsing room open up and expand. The song “Battle Of Saratoga” tells the story of a heroin-addicted musician who is trapped in a New York hotel by a snowstorm in the 1960s. The violin resembles the relentless rain of fiery-sparks falling on a battlefield during a hallucination brought on by heroin withdrawal. The drum is played in a staccato marching style by Danny Frankel, a highly sought after and regarded drummer and percussionist who has played with John Cale, k.d. lang, Mark Eitzel, Laurie Anderson and Marianne Faithfull.
Josh Haden also writes about his own past. In “Station 2” he sings about his childhood in Malibu, friendships he left behind and a lost love from the days of his youth. He steps back behind his own music so that we can descend into its warm depths and dissolve into it.
“After all, those were the times, I’d give anything to go back and stare into her eyes. There was a girl I left behind, I’ll never forget Caroline.”