For nearly 20 years the music of Josh Haden and Spain has provided a soundtrack for the dreams and waking life of fans the world over, with a singular style that often stirs something deep in the soul of the listener. 2014's Sargent Place, builds on that decades long legacy and pushes it into inspiring new directions. From the opener, "Love At First Sight," detailing the initial spark of a romance to the contemplative closer, "Waking Song," the album falls solidly in line with the highly regarded early discography of the band, The Blue Moods Of Spain (1996), She Haunts My Dreams (1999) and I Believe (2001), as well as their most recent recording, The Soul Of Spain (2012).
In some respects, Sargent Place acts as a truer return to form than 2012's The Soul Of Spain, for while that album marked the band's first recorded work in over a decade, the album featured material written by Haden in the 1990s in earlier incarnations of the band. With the exception of "It Could Be Heaven," "Waking Song" and "Love at First Sight," all written previously by Haden, the songs for Sargent Place were written in the run up to this album, with many songs only truly taking shape during the recording process.
Key to that process was the work of enigmatic producer Gus Seyffert (The Black Keys, Norah Jones, Sia, Beck). On Sargent Place, Seyffert's influence is heard immediately in the opening notes of the lead track, "Love At First Sight." The first sound you hear is Seyffert's Brazilian Pandeiro hand drum, which is then immediately joined, almost in duet, by the steady, pulsating hum of Haden's bass. In addition to bringing the band into his personal studio, located on the street in Echo Park that graces the album's title, Seyffert helped to shape many of the tracks on the album, some of which were radically rearranged in the process of recording. Given how much of the album's songs revolve around beginnings and endings, it is fitting that the album's title (unique among the others in the band's catalog) ties the recording to a specific moment in time and a specific inspirational place in their home of Los Angeles.
Another clear inspiration on Sargent Place is the music and life of Haden's father, jazz legend Charlie Haden. "To Be A Man" and "You And I" were songs written with the elder Haden in mind, with "You And I" featuring the final studio recording from the acclaimed and beloved musician. If not for Seyffert's intervention, "You and I" might have been a very different song. The band initially recorded a vastly different version, but Seyffert suggested that they search for a different way of arranging the song. An informal discussion between Seyffert and Josh Haden eventually led to a trip to his father's home to record his bass parts. The result is one of the most moving expressions of love the band has ever recorded.
As Haden describes, "It's important to me that this is my dad's last recording and I think it says a lot to his life and his love for his kids and what he has taught everybody over the years…about how to treat each other and how to interact and view each other and view the world."
The influence of the Haden family is also directly felt on the stately and elegiac "The Fighter." In addition to his father, the music of his sisters, Rachel, Petra and Tanya, was instrumental in helping Haden to find Spain's signature sound when he began the band in the early 1990s. In recent years, Haden has taken to writing songs on an acoustic guitar given to him by his sister Rachel. "The Fighter," began its life on that guitar, as a few strummed chords came together with the idea of a strong and violent boxer represented in a slow and delicate melody, before being transformed into a song of terrific beauty here on Sargent Place, with backing vocals and strings from Petra Haden.
As the standout tracks from Sargent Place, "Love At First Sight" and "You And I," "The Fighter," (which was featured in a recent episode of the hit MTV show Finding Carter) take their place amongst the other iconic songs from Spain's past, "Ray Of Light," "Our Love Is Gonna Live Forever," "Born To Love Her" and perhaps Haden's most well known song "Spiritual." When added together with this already rich body of work, these songs further cement Josh Haden's legacy as one of America's great songwriters, a modern troubadour for the impassioned, forlorn and tender-hearted.
Sargent Place marks Spain at a specific time, but it also makes clear that even as the band continues to evolve, the sound of Josh Haden and Spain remains as evocative and timeless as ever.
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