This is an album that simply exudes swankiness and style. No, let me rephrase that. This is an album that is swankiness and style. Evoking moods of smoke-filled lounges, martinies, velvet suits, and beautiful, sultry women, The Blue Moods Of Spain is about as good as it gets.
Fronted by bassist/vocalist/songwriter Josh Haden, Spain combines blues, country, and classical with the lethargic beauty of bands such as Bedhead and Low. But whereas Bedhead conjures up long desert vistas and Low brings to mind long, grey winters and sleepy towns, Spain takes you to old jazz clubs, where cool cats in suits and sunglasses played the whole night long, and blues singers conveyed the trials and tribulations of love.
Haden’s bass serves as the dominant instrument, anchoring down the songs while jazzy riffs and sparse drums fill in the background. And then he kicks in with the soothing, whispering voice a la Jason Martin (Starflyer 59). While there is nothing bombastic about the lyrics, the music is the main thing here. “Ten Nights” and “Untitled #1” (my favorite track) make me want to put on a pair shades and smoke a fat cigar. “Untitled #1” is just cool, with a funky bassline and some ultra-cool guitar soloing. On “Ray of Light”, Haden and Co. is joined by Larry Cady on trumpet, adding a forlorn sound to the music.
“World Of Blue”, in its 14 minute glory, is perhaps the worst song, or the best song on the album, depending on how you look at it. While the lyrics do get a little repetitive (“Blue is the color of her eyes. Blue is the color of the skies. Blue is the color of the mountains.” And on and on…), the addition of Petra Haden (violin and vocals) and Tanya Haden (cello) help the song to culminate in a beautiful classical symphony, while Petra’s vocals wail and soar about. The album closes out with the moving “Spiritual”, in which Haden laments “Jesus, I don’t want to die alone. Jesus, oh Jesus, I don’t want to die alone. My love was untrue. Now all I have is You. Jesus, oh Jesus, if You hear my last breath, don’t leave me here to die a lonely death” with religious penitence and piety. It’s no wonder that Johnny Cash covered that song on his new album.
Before you buy this album, you should know that all but 2 of the tracks clock in at 5 minutes or greater, and 5 are more than 6 minutes long. I only tell you this so that you’ll realize how big this album is. For some people, that’s too long. This album could take awhile to sink in, to get used to the sound. This album requires patience to listen to, to really get something out of it. That said, this is one of those albums that is perfect for late night listening, to chill out to. For those who want the beautiful slowness of bands like Low or Bedhead, without the pathos and melancholia that they weave into their music, this is the album for you. But make no mistake, this album ain’t no joke. It’s the real thing, and hip cats everywhere will do well to check it out.