SPIRITUALS: THE BEST OF SPAIN

Led by singer/bassist Josh Haden (son of jazz bassist Charlie Haden), Spain were among the best of the so-called slo-core outfits to arrive on the underground-pop scene of the mid-’90s, joining the ruminative ranks of Red House Painters, American Music Club, and Low, among others. This exquisite best-of collection culls 13 mostly essential non-hits from the foursome’s three-album catalogue (the group disbanded in 2001, after a six-year run), and it adds three more live tracks for good measure, including nice-but-redundant covers of Willie Nelson’s "Funny How Time Slips Away" and Kurt Weill’s "September Song." Spirituals leans heaviest on Spain’s sultry ’95 debut, The Blue Moods of Spain, plucking six of that disc’s nine tracks to bring the band’s identity and initial intent into focus.

With this sort of painstaking melancholia, changes in direction or volume are usually incremental rather than sudden or dramatic — the drama, after all, is supposed to lie in the overarching tone and atmosphere of the material. But the run of tracks from both 1999’sShe Haunts My Dreams and 2001’s I Believe showcases a band increasingly in touch with melody, clearing away some of their foggy reflections, and picking up the pace a bit. From the lovelorn radiance of "Easy Lover" to the piano-laced beauty of "Nobody Has To Know" to the wistful ache and strum of "She Haunts My Dreams," Spain demonstrate that despite the lack of a commercial breakthrough, theirs was a well-rounded ennui.

 

JONATHAN PERRY