Sargent Place

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The cool film-noir mood that's been Spain's aural trademark since Josh Haden formed the group in the '90s warms up just a bit on their fifth studio album, Sargent Place. Musically, Sargent Place is full of the atmospheric late-night moods and open spaces that are this group's stock in trade, but there's a touch more fire in the performances on this set, and the emotional stakes feel a bit higher. This probably isn't an accident; Josh Haden's father was the legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden, and Sargent Place contains Charlie's last recorded performance. If the album never explicitly addresses his fate, Sargent Place is full of songs that touch on the power of love and the pain of its loss, and Josh's vocals take on a bluesy air in songs like "From the Dust" and "In My Soul," while he brings a soulful undertow in "Let Your Angel." If this music still plays its feelings close to the vest most of the time, when Haden opens up it feels honest and real, and the music is a good match, clean and clear but somehow deeply felt at the same time. Haden's accompanists are in fine form here, especially guitarist Daniel Brummel, keyboard man Randy Kirk, and drummer Matt Mayhall, and when Charlie Haden's unmistakable upright kicks in on "You and I" as Josh sings of a love that will never die, the song becomes much more than the sum of its parts and turns into a powerful testament to the legacy of one creative family. (Josh's sister Petra Haden also lends splendid backing vocals to the sessions.) Spain have never dealt in irony despite making music that could easily sound like a post-modern parlor trick, and Sargent Place is one of the their most powerful efforts to date, an expression of caring born from a time of grief.

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