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A Steady Lithesome Elegance – “Carolina” from slowcore pioneers Spain

Spain
Carolina
Diamond Soul Recordings

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On their third album since being reformed by Josh Haden in 2007 out of his solo live band and sixth overall since exploding on the scene with a sanguine flash in 1995, Carolina, released June 3rd on Glitterhouse in the UK and Haden’s own imprint Diamond Soul Recordings in the US,¬†continues Spain’s ascent to the languid pop mountaintop.

Even as it’s true that, like his sisters, Charlie’s son has never been explicitly drawn toward the legendary jazz heights of his bassist father, Josh’s inheritance can certainly be glimpsed on occasion in the smoky textures that often hang above the sound Spain makes and the new record is no exception.

Considered among the primary progenitors of the so-called ‘slowcore’ movement, the LA-based band, while not it’s sleepiest practitioners – we’re not in classic Codeine territory here, folks – indeed maintains its immodest talent for the lithesomely deliberate pace here. But instead of a patience-draining exercise that might leave Job exasperated, Carolina, as per all Spain’s output generally, seldom fails to engage in ways sublime and gently exhilarating. The key, as it ever has been and shall forever be no matter what band is at hand, is finely-crafted songs and in this regard we also hear the dominant Haden gene freely expressing itself.

Stretching with deeper diligence than previous across the more vibrantly subdued fabrics of Americana, the songs on Carolina¬†are often painted with a Band-like poignance. Opener “Tennessee,” a sprawling multi-generational saga told in slightly less than five minutes, brims with a melancholy grace, Kenny Lyons’ all-seeing pedal steel bearing witness to a twisted history of betrayal and flight. “The Depression” carries the marks and scars of both Will Oldham and Richard Buckner, Haden’s plangent storyteller’s voice shaded with the sorrow of events beyond our control, “Lorelei,” though resigned and violence-weary of tone (even if the violence is metaphorical in nature), reflects its still-held strength and promise via what for this band is a crashing uptempo romp that you might compare to something like the Byrds in reserved power-pop mode, the plucky blues-flavored “For You” shows off still another new-ish side to Haden’s expanding songwriting chops (to the extent of allowing Lyons a couple of searing electric passages a la early Stephen Stills) while “Station 2” closes the record burnished by loves shining regret, a sharp laconic beat helping keep score of the longing and missed opportunities. But the keeperest of the keepers is “Battle of Saratoga,” an enduring tale of personal loss refracted through the prism of the Revolutionary War. In it, every salient element – guitar sounding an incandescent loneliness, evocative imagery worthy of Robert Frost meets Robert Forster, that pedal steel carved out of timelessness itself, the furtive hovering presence of sister Petra’s violin and the stippled empathies of Danny Frickel’s drum work- gathers together into a distillation of everything that’s great about this ensemble. A steady elegance, falling on the all-too-human side of stately, is what defines the essence of Spain and if any single track were made to illustrate that fact “Battle of Saratoga” might well be it.

Reasonable people (myself likely included) may disagree, of course and claim that distinction for all of Carolina. They wouldn’t be wrong.

[Carolina available here or here]