Personnel: Josh Haden (vocals, acoustic guitar); Petra Haden (vocals, violin); Kenny Lyon (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lap steel guitar, banjo, piano, keyboards); Danny Frankel (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Kenny Lyon.
Recording information: Joshua Tree; Koreatown.
Photographer: Miriam Brummel.
There was a patina of hipster cool in most of Josh Haden's early recordings as Spain. That's been washed away on 2016's Carolina; instead of suggesting a late-night bachelor pad jazz session, Carolina evokes the sound and feeling of a quiet summer evening in the Deep South, where all you can hear are the crickets and your failed dreams echoing through your imagination. The weary but implacable rhythms that drive these ten songs are at once gloomy and graceful, full of quiet beauty but evoking a mood that's a shade or two past the blues. This edition of Spain is built around a small ensemble -- Haden on guitar, bass, and vocals, Danny Frankel on percussion, Petra Haden (Josh's sister) on violin and vocals, and producer and engineer Kenny Lyon on banjo, various guitars, and keyboards. But the arrangements give the melodies a full, rich sound, dynamic but powerful, and the doleful strength of Haden's lead vocals gives his lyrics a quiet but unerring gravity that serves them well. Carolina is a collection of short sketches on American life that doesn't truly cohere into a larger narrative, but the common threads of tragedy, loss, and the search for answers make this into something more compelling than a random collection of tunes. For all its purposeful simplicity, Carolina is an emotionally potent work, and after the contemplations of grief on 2014's Sargent Place, this album's unspoken theme is the inner journey in the wake of loss and hurt. Spain have been producing subtly remarkable albums since they debuted in 1995, and Carolina shows they've grown remarkably as artists since then. ~ Mark Deming