Rhythm & Views

Josh Haden

Spain frontman Josh Haden is marshaling his forces for another sojourn into the alt-music landscape. After Dreamworks merged with Universal, the singer/songwriter/bassist bought the rights to his debut solo album and is now busy shopping it around. Light of Day, a five-song EP he's self-released for fans--and for prospective labels--is a gorgeous sampler, ensuring that Haden will have no problem finding a home for what will prove to be his masterpiece.

There's a new R&B element at work in Haden's songcraft, most of it arriving via the array of urban-music producers Haden has assembled. Hip-hop Dan the Automator shapes the slow jam of "Show You the Way" with a subtle funk beat, some basic piano chords and a smoky string section, giving Haden plenty of room to explore his preferred theme--the divine power of love: "Empty/Hollow/Lone-liness that you can't hide."

Produced by the Soulsavers, "So Alone" takes a noirish turn down a dark alley, a shattered voice pleading with its lover not to leave A trumpet and saxophone are the only reply, sputtering their way along a starless gutter.

Produced by Tropikal, "Way of the World" is the closest Haden will ever get to recording a club hit. It also contains some of Haden's most upbeat lyrics: "You make me so happy," he croons in a falsetto. And the EP's title track finally introduces some of that spare guitarwork that made Spain so spectacularly timeless.

Haden's is not a particularly powerful or unique voice, but the intensity that he manages to achieve with his limited gifts is itself a symbol of the human heart's hunger for transcendence.