My new favourite slow-burning album

22:34, Aug 09 2012

I should clear up, straight away, that by slow-burning I am referring neither to CDs that take ages to copy from your old, clogged-up laptop, nor to the album by Katchafire.

My new favourite slow-burner is The Soul of Spain by Spain. I reviewed the album for The Dominion Post recently (and you'll see my review to the right there). I've had a copy of this album for a while and I've had plenty of time to fall in love with it. That's been necessary - you don't always get that luxury as a reviewer, sometimes you get to hear an album once or twice and have to put something together. Other times you have weeks - and the chance to let the album live with you for a while. You take it on journeys, in the car. Around town on the iPod. You move with it from room to room, using different stereos in the house - trying it out in front of other people, listening to it alone.

A great discovery of a wonderful new album is like the start of a new friendship - you can't wait to see that new person again, you can't wait to hear the new album again. You play it over in your head, the way you recall recent conversations with that new friend. You smile at nothing in particular, you're caught in this world of instant reflection, immediate nostalgia - just a mild case of pining for the time you had (often just moments ago). So you press play again, you skip back to a song or two, maybe you look up a favourite track or two on YouTube. But you build in time to make sure this album gets played.

I talked about this feeling recently with the new Dirty Projectors album - and it's been that way for me and The Soul of Spain. We've been courting one another, essentially.

Adding to the story here - making this album particularly special - is the history. Here is a record that arrives over a decade after the band's last album. Spain released this sublime debut and then meandered (in the nicest/best possible way) for a few years and petered out. Josh Haden (son of Charlie Haden, brother of Petra Haden and brother-in-law of Jack Black) reformed/recreated the band and played a few shows in recent years, taking time to build up some new material. The result, for me, is an album that comes as close as possible to replicating the magic from that wonderful debut. But it's not just a rewrite/recasting - it is its own album. So much so that I'm sure new fans are coming to this band with The Soul of Spain. I'm also sure that those new fans would love to hear The Blue Moods of Spain. Time spent with the new album has sent me back to that debut (now I just need to save up for the vinyl reissue).

But back to The Soul of Spain. I love the opening track, Only One. Someone told me recently that they liked the start of the song and then got bored, they drifted away from it while it was still playing. They were hoping for some modulation, they wanted something else to happen. That's fine. That's fair enough. We aren't all supposed to think the same things about music - this is all about opinions, right? - but I love the fact that this track takes its time. On first listen I was close to nonplussed - I guess, in that sense, I was waiting for something else to happen, maybe. Or I too had drifted off. But there was enough there to make me go back for more. And what I have found is a set of bold, proud songs. I'm revelling in the craft and crafting of these songs. As I hear the album I hear time spent at the workbench, hammering out these songs.


In fact, what happened was I was midway through the album - and my ears had been pricked up by Because Your Love - as I said in my review there I thought of Ben Harper if he were ever able to write a decent song. And then a couple more songs passed by. I realised, midway through this album, that it all hung together - it had a perfect flow, a waft of music, it wasn't necessarily thematic, or linked, but these songs were links in a longer chain, bricks in a building; these songs were different aspects of the personality of the album. I could see it all taking shape as I was hearing the album. The songs started to make more of an impact - and, well, it was just nice. Awful word that, teachers will tell you to avoid it - but I don't know, I think nice is often just the right word, exactly the feeling that something brings or gives. And I felt nice for hearing this album and everything on the album radiated a charm.

Slowly, surely, this album carved its way into my brain, it left an impression. It's still with me. I wrote the review and I haven't moved on from it - I won't. It'll be one of my favourite albums of the year (it already is, but I mean that it will be on the list). And I'm still finding new favourite songs and new favourite pieces within songs. I'm also still enjoying my return to the other material from Haden's previous version of Spain. And that is the bonus of this album for me. That reconnection.

Spain has this slow-burning quality. Haden's voice and playing is exquisite, his writing is strong. There's some real heart-on-sleeve material here and I like that. And it tends to sit outside any actual genre or classification. Often people mention jazz - but that's mostly because Haden's father is legendary bassist Charlie, or, if he were an Olympic competitor, the commentators would refer to him as "the great Charlie Haden". His sisters (triplets) are extraordinary singers. As well as working together as a singing trio Petra recorded her own version of The Who Sell Out album using her voice as the only instrument. All of them are involved in other solo and band projects. There was even a Haden Family album a few years back. There's pedigree there, and Josh's biggest success (in terms of a broader audience knowing his work) is his song Spiritual - if you don't know his version perhaps you know Johnny Cash's cover? (Or, for any Mark Lanegan fans there's this version by Soulsavers.)

And so there is so much more than just a lilt of jazz to these pop songs. But it doesn't feel like clever genre-hopping. It feels like music that exists in and of its own time and space - music that arrives with you when it is ready. It has this slow-burn quality to it that I love.

So I just wanted to tell you about this album - and maybe you've heard it and don't like it at all. Or maybe all this talk of it doesn't interest you even if you have not heard it. But what I was aiming for here was some understanding from you of this process, this idea of the slow-burn album, the one that creeps up and politely taps you on the shoulder urging another listen. And then another. And then another. Slowly, purposefully, it becomes an important part of your life.

I've shared with you my latest favourite slow-burner of an album. So tell me about the last time you lived with an album for a while and it offered enough on that first listen for you to keep revisiting it, next thing you're rooming, you've moved in together. You're picking out a new CD rack for all those past loves I guess...

What's your new (latest) favourite slow-burning album? 

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