Spain – Spirituals — The Best of Spain
When Spain first attracted national attention in 1995 with their debut The Blue Moods Of Spain, some critics expressed surprise that the quartet hailed from Los Angeles. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. No doubt plenty of Angelenos found their glacial tempos and minimal arrangements a refreshing break from the perpetual sunlight and Hollywood excess that define the city.
On the surface, the band’s stripped-down sound, and the detached vocals of bassist/founder Josh Haden (son of jazz great Charlie Haden), invited comparisons to cool-school jazz. But the roots of Haden’s lengthy, languid originals ran deeper, drawing upon country, gospel, blues and soul. “Ten Nights” could be the Oxycontin-popping cousin of Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes The Place of You”, while Johnny Cash was sufficiently taken with the dying sinner’s plea “Spiritual” to cover it on 1996’s Unchained.
Collecting sixteen cuts from Spain’s seven-year career, Spirituals offers a succinct overview of what made Haden and company’s music so affecting — and how tampering with their blueprint proved unwise. While three tracks pulled from 1998’s She Haunts My Dreams find Spain successfully integrating strings and keyboards without disrupting the mesmerizing melancholia, the four from 2000’s swan song, I Believe, stray too far from the original concept. The tracks are shorter and busier; intrusive drums push “Make Your Body Move” perilously close to soft-rock territory. In these fuller settings, Haden’s vocal delivery feels anemic.
Die-hards may want this set for the rarities — both sides of a 1994 single and three radio performances, including a pleasant but unremarkable cover of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” — but casual fans would be better served by simply dusting off Blue Moods.