Spain - Mandala Brush - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Spain - Mandala Brush

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2018-09-28
Spain - Mandala Brush
Spain - Mandala Brush

Whose chickens are those in my yard?

Now, that question is the opening line of “Odetta” from the album Reverie by Joe Henry, one of the best purveyors of all the murky stuff from America’s phantasmagorical songbook.

And this album by Spain (aka Josh Haden with family and friends) ups that ante with the song Sugarkane, with countless other questions that hang and haunt “somewhere in the past before” with the cryptic words, “Could you be the weather love/The ocean when the bodies turn them up.”

This is American gothic stuff, with or without those chickens in the yard.

The bio for the record says it’s “indie pop slowcore Americana free jazz.”

Well, I can only add that it’s truly wonderous indie pop slowcore Americana free jazz.

Oh and the entire album has a taut tightrope type of beauty.

And this music is only pop in the truest sense of good musical taste with melodies that rustle the leaves every year and lyrics that harvest the beauty of that very first autumnal breeze. 

And (again)--speaking of autumnal beauty, the fifteen-minute instrumental track, “God Is Love” floats like a first noticed leaf that hovers in the air. Josh Haden’s bass evaporates into the thick air, as do the flutes and saxes, while the drums play like jazzy butterflies. Guitars creep from under old farmhouse floorboards. This is instrumental folky jazz bliss, with a wordless female vocal that waifs the tune into the heavens.

But I get ahead of the tracklist, as the record begins with “Maya in the Summer,” which is a seven-minute plaintive ode of love and life which is an intense mantra that’s not dissimilar to John Lennon’s Abbey Road passionate ode to Yoko, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” This tune simply pulses and throbs with desire. This is a very linear song with a direct dart to the heart toss. And by the way, its lyric sings “from the dead to the living.” So, this is eerie folk stuff.

The before-mentioned “Sugarkane” bleeds American dreams when confronted with American reality. This song equals anything on the classic folk singer album (which time has never acknowledged) by Bob Martin on RCA Records, Midwest Farm Disaster. Mentioning both records in the same sentence pretty much rekindles the moment in Huck Finn when Jim and our Huckleberry are struck by the riverboat and have to jump for their deep and dark Mississippi River lives.

That’s all saying quite a bit, but this is a pretty great record.

And saying quite a bit more, the song “You Bring Me Up” conjures the plaintive Americana of The Band. This tune evokes the patient and earnest vocals of Rick Danko. The ending coda is an explosion into a gospel choir chorus. “Rooster Cogburn” is also in strange cahoots with The Band’s mythic America. It evokes a deep swamp sound that is much more malevolent than Creedence’s river boat-hoodoo chasing on the Fourth of July--bad moon rising vibe. This is spooky stuff with a dark jazzy tale and an equally dark jazzy musical instrumental bit with an organ sound that presides in judgement as the bass, guitar, and percussion reveal their sinister purpose.

And just so you know, adding to the Americana chicken theme (which is a good thing to do every once in a while), the author William Faulkner once wrote in As I Lay Dying, “We depend a lot on our chickens.”

So, yeah, the song “Tangerine” is sort of like those odd chickens in the Joe Henry and William Faulkner quotes, in that the tune wanders all over the jazzy folk barnyard with sax and violin biblical oration. This particular tune evokes the sacred tones of scripture, and it also echoes the music of Pharoah Sanders (which pretty much does that very same thing).

The same is true for “Holly,” which begins with (I think) an accordion, acoustic guitar, and vocal that pleads to “take my body away from me.” This is solemn biblical autumnal tombstone folk music. And it is sadness tuned to the key of beauty.

“Folkstone, Kent” is, again, folky jazz, and is, perhaps, a more upbeat moment on the record. This is a lovely tune that conjures England “somewhere in the past.” The somber ghosts dance a bit when “the war is over.” But, like the rest of this album, the dance is dark, because there is no “lover” coming “back to me.”

And “Laurel Clementine” is atmospheric and soulful.

Now, to be honest, “The Coming of Our Lord” caused some concern because, well, I don’t exactly have a metallic fish attached to the rump of my car. But not to fear: This is a straightforward, almost folky gospel traditional tune that simply respects an idea in the very same way Josh Haden’s dad, Charlie (with Hank Jones), did in the wonderful album Steal Away, which was an album of Spirituals, Hymns, and Folk Songs.

By the way, there’s a new classic rock book, Twilight of the Gods by Steven Hayden, that connects all the dots between Jimmie Rodgers, Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan as they trace “the backbone of human civilization.” While describing classic rock, he writes:

This was nothing less than a spiritual awakening, and ongoing conversation going back centuries between the dead and the living through rock ‘n’ roll. If you could see yourself in the old songs, it kept the voice on the ancient record alive. And it might keep you alive, too, by connecting you to a deathless universal spirit.

No one will ever confuse this album with the classic rock of Led Zeppelin or (heaven forbid) The Eagles, but this record manages to tap into that same tradition. It connects you to a deathless spirit. It’s a love song, as the first tune “Maya in the Summer” sings, from the dead to the living.

And, of course, if anyone ever writes a book about classic indie pop slowcore Americana free jazz, this record deserves, if there is any true justice in the world, the attention given to the occupant of a first-class suite in Hotel California.

Now, in truth, the final song, “Amorphous,” does groan a bit as it ascends into free jazz cosmos.  But America groans with its expansive and often democratic design. The great William Blake’s Albion groaned with romantic revolution. And Walt Whitman’s poetry often groans, too. So, this record is like a Mathew Brady photograph, or a Woody Guthrie folk tune, a Joe Henry contemporary snapshot of America, any jazz album that sings to the Karma of universe, the Mandala Brush of the title, or the absolute beauty of the Liberation Music Orchestra; and as Mr. Radue (aka Jazz Guy) said, “Charlie would be proud,” because this is an album that simply plays the beauty of its own deep indie pop slowcore Americana free jazz (and everything else) soul, which may or may not care to ask the always vital question, Whose chickens are those in my yard?


Comments (2)

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Such a beautiful album!

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Great review befitting Josh Haden's group.

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