Spain - Carolina

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2016-06-03

Josh Haden of Spain writes the kind of slow-burning compositions that those familiar with Willard Grant Conspiracy, Low or Magnolia Electric Company would instantly recognise. In spite of itself, his solemn, occasionally monochromatic voice still embodies a genuine tenderness, brought to realisation by a consonance of potent lyrical narratives, and exquisite chamber music arrangements. The instruments used help the songs deliver the right emotional temperature; violin, lap steel and acoustic guitar gently finessing the narrative, calibrating the mood and wrapping the music in a warmth characteristic of Josh Haden’s previous work as Spain.  

Carolina continues his exploration of the Americana and alt-country idioms, and listening to Carolina is like an old American friend telling fire-side tales of his family and personal recollections, all the while your appreciation of what made him a man increases with each minor disclosure. In some ways, listening to Spain is like listening to old Guy Clark or John Prine records. Like those iconic American songwriters, Haden’s music can’t be divorced from its message, and so throughout Carolina, we are privy to Josh Haden, his family and his perceptions of Middle America.

On ‘The Depression’, we learn of the destiny of Haden’s grandfather and his family as they abandon their farm during the depression, placing their dog, Marilyn in a dog shelter. The homecoming comes earlier for Marilyn as she escapes from the shelter, returning to an empty ranch. The family returns some time later to find Marilyn dead at the front door. The music that accompanies this narrative of devastating loss is mournful, a beautiful arrangement of acoustic guitar, banjo and electric pick-up, played essentially like an old country song in a sad minor key.

Elsewhere, Haden shares recollections of a lost youth, as he leaves his seaside friends for college ('Station 2'), and as he grapples awkwardly with leaving a prospective date high and dry ('Apologies').  On ‘One Last Look’ there’s the tale of a miner, pre-minor’s rights, trapped with no hope of escape but tragically having time to reflect over his losses. The music is played in a waltz and divinely augmented by the violin playing of Petra Haden.

On the upbeat side, ‘Lorelei’ is more indie in calibre notwithstanding the lap steel, and possesses a charming hook that manages to be equal part romanticism and naivety.

The prevailing mood on Carolina however is one of intimacy, and empathy shared with the songwriter. The embers of creativity will never die out whilst Haden keeps stoking the fire as he does on Carolina.

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