For Josh Haden and Spain there has been something of a reawakening – the wonderful 2012 return, The Soul of Spain hinted back to the band’s earliest work but clearly lit something of a fire. For, swiftly in that record’s wake we received The Morning Becomes Eclectic Session – an EP-length set of (further) stripped-back versions of the Soul of Spain material and other favourites, such as the wonderful Spiritual back from 1995’s Blue Moods of Spain album. And here now we have brand new full-lengther, Sargent Place. This record carries on in much the same vein as Soul of Spain, that fire not only re-lit but set to slow-burn as opener Love at First Sight glides in on a glorious waft of bass, a nearly-creepy song forming, slowly, purposefully gathering itself up behind the breathy vocal.
And then the dreamy waft of The Fighter before It Could Be Heaven offers slightly snarling country-blues guitars to a pop-rock backbeat. Vocally, Haden has never sounded better and the songwriting just continues to hit the mark, From The Dust sways and rocks on a foundation of gothic blues, a more thoughtful – decisive – version of some of the ideals Jack White has traced around.
Sunday Morning arrives full of pep, a blurred lick of guitar biting down, chomping in and out on the line of the tune but Josh Haden is always at his best when he slows things to the lilt and crawl. Let Your Angel is this album’s centrepiece of gospel-redux, a song with the weight that Ben Harper fans seem to honestly believe their man is capable of. And its followed by To Be A Man, a hint that Haden might still, in some way, be writing songs for Johnny Cash.
The beautiful crawl of You And I features Josh’s father, jazz legend Charlie, on bass. He knits knotted lines in around the nautical sway of the guitar.
It’s an album that never outstays its welcome – no filler, every song spot-on, and there are more upbeat/optimistic notes here, such as the closer, Waking Song. A brief coda to the album and a hint that – fingers crossed – we’ll be hearing (even) more from Spain. The band so clearly has its groove back, the singer/songwriter with a leash on that muse, taking it out for a stroll, setting their stride down to a, gentle, blissful walking bassline.