Spain - Carolina - Review

Spain’s latest release, Carolina, lingers in gorgeous, wistful melancholy. At times, lead singer/songwriter Josh Haden’s voice is reminiscent of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks. The cover art features a glum portrait of a man rendered in blue ink and sets the tone for the album as a whole. Ten tunes are imbued with a mood of introspection that speaks of painful, personal truths and elusive historical references.

The first track, “Tennessee,” features minor key guitar strumming and some lovely dobro work. Cryptic lyrics tell a tale of displacement. “Tennessee you brought me up/Can it be she brought me down? The Mcalister’s took our land.” Who are these people? I’d like to know. “The Depression” lives up to its name with heavy-hearted allure. “The Depression it ruined us. Oh Marilyn… when the market crashed, our hopes were dashed, we lost everything.” Not exactly a pick me up.

“Apologies” tenderly asks, “How did we end up here in the heart of Beverly Hills?” and aches with the simplicity of two guitars, a piano and sweet harmonies. In contrast, “Lorelei” simmers with discontent and states, “I don’t wanna fight your war tonight. Put away all your guns and knives. I am waiting Lorelei.” Here Haden stretches every syllable for all it’s worth while giving vague reference to German folklore.

As the only tune played in a major key, “In My Hour” provides some relief with a sunnier disposition, though the lyrics are as grim as any. “They say that we need all the rain we can get. They say our survival could end in this desert.” Is this a warning of ecological disaster or a tale of pioneer hardship? It’s hard to know.

“For You” is sort of a blues that is as close as Spain comes to rocking. A solid backbeat and grinding guitars simmer as Haden passionately sings “And the moon and the stars, sunrise. For you.” The record closes with “Station 2,” which recalls sneaking away to spend the night out with a lover. “Long ago there was a place we would go to celebrate. This was when we were kids. Stumbling all the way. We burned the Times. After all those were the times. I’d give anything to go back and stare into her eyes.”

Carolina is notable for its sonic beauty, tight arrangements and Josh Haden’s particular enunciation. Though his exact meaning is often obscure, the sentiment is one of sadness and even depression. It’s not a Saturday night record, especially if you happen to be spending it by yourself, but there is plenty to ponder in the pulchritude of gloom.

Mike Cobb
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