Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs and recordings from independent artists our DJ’s think you should hear. Each and every Friday we deliver songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “I’m Still Free” by Spain from their forthcoming 7″ single on Acuarela Discos.
Spain is the red, white and blues slow-core brainchild of New York born (transplanted to LA at age 7) multi-instrumentalist (bass, guitar, pipes) Josh Haden. Born into a musically inclined family (his dad is legendary Jazz bassist Charlie Haden; his triplet sisters are Petra, Rachel and Tanya of That Dog, Foo Fighters, The Rentals & Silversun Pickups, etc.), Josh more or less had success written in the cards long before sucking his first breath back in 1968. He began writing songs at the ripe old age of 3.
Growing up in southern California under the tutelage of his father’s record collection, Haden’s taste for the Beatles, Billie Holiday and Stevie Wonder soon veered toward the punk scene sprouting up in his own back yard. At age 16, he formed his first band, The Treacherous Jaywalkers, eventually releasing three LPs with Gregg Ginn’s legendary outfit SST Records (Black Flag, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, The Minutemen). The band would eventually be dropped from the label, leading to the creation (with Ken Boudakian around 1995), the demise (a best of was released on Restless Records in 2003) and the resurrection (with a current lineup of Daniel Brummel on guitar, Randy Kirk on keyboards and guitar, and Matt Mayhall on drums) of Spain.
Throughout the years, Haden and Spain have found a good deal of success with their diverse sonic mixture of country, spiritually dreamy blues and pop, peaking (at least thus far) with the inclusion of Haden’s “Spiritual” (from The Blue Moods of Spain) on Johnny Cash’s Grammy Award-winning Unchained (1996) [it later appeared on Soulsavers’ 2007 album, It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land with Mark Lanegan on vocals!].
Despite its extensive instrumentation, Spain’s latest single, “I’m Still Free,” is delivered in a manner that seeks to connect the simplicity of folk and gospel to the unbridled-spontaneity of jazz. The metronome-like beat reminds us of that smoky jazz club where most anything could happen, where nothing is ever the same twice, while the accessible lyrics, lightly strummed strings, and organ keys bury us in the comfort of tradition. Haden is really channeling Leonard Cohen here — in a way that makes the song sound more like a poem set to music than music set to words.
Currently, Spain is working on more songs for a forthcoming album. The single for “I’m Still Free” is due January 26, so you can likely expect more music some time this year and possibly a tour to follow. If you’re local to California, you have a chance to catch Spain in either San Francisco or LA this February. Check the band’s MySpace page or Josh’s website and blog for further news. For now, you can hear a rustic and highly emotive rendition of “Spiritual” recorded for NPR and performed with Haden’s family, and also watch this homemade video for “I’m Still Free” here: