What does it sound like?:
Josh Rouse has quietly but assuredly been making a brand of wholesome American folky roots music for the past 20 years that stands or falls by the listener’s desire to hear output from an artist that doesn’t stray too far from a tried and tested musical formula. Damned by faint praise? Not a bit of it. Rouse’s formula works and works well because his particular brand of singer/songwriter strikes a high hit rate when it comes to melodic riches.
Briefly Rouse threatened to break big with his 4th album, ‘1972’ (2003), an unashamedly retro-fitting record that exuded class of a high quality but also of a bygone pedigree. It was the sound of an artist honing his craft to the sweetest of sweet spots from where his songs could nestle warmly and without fear of embarrassment among the classics of early to mid 70s AOR acoustic pop/rock from the likes of Paul Simon, Carole KIng, James Taylor and – on the funkier tracks – Boz Scaggs. Therein lay Rouse’s problem; an artist in the wrong time and place while simultaneously never sounding out of place in the company of his elders and, on a good day, not necessarily his betters. 2005’s ‘Nashville’ hit similar heights of welcome familiarity and showed hints of an artist trying to stretch himself without losing sight of how to spin gold within his craft. A failed first marriage saw Rouse retreat and relocate to Spain from where he released a series of low-key albums that have had their fair share of great moments but have also underlined his music’s innate ability to simply exist to those who care enough without exhibiting enough ear-catching traits or hipness to demand to be found.
Apparently ‘Love In The Modern Age’ is different to what’s come before. It’s an update of sorts in that Rouse has discovered how to infuse synthesizers and an 80’s electronic sheen into his arrangements. Paddy McAloon, Paul Buchanan and Grant McLennan (even a little bit of Joe Jackson) are now the reference points that rise to the surface. It’s to Rouse’s enduring credit that he once again absorbs these ‘best of the best’ influences without compromising his own unique voice and style or his own knack for shaping something new and fresh from something so familiar. To use a footballing turn of phrase, form is temporary but class is permanent and Rouse has that in spades (and aces).
Over the years I’ve learned to approach a new album from Josh Rouse with less and less of a sense of anticipation or indeed excitement. His music is too mature, measured and assured to stimulate such fevered expectation. The rewards come by calmly welcoming in the familiar sounds and feelings his music stimulates and realising the surprises on offer will be subtle and elegant rather than climactic and clamorous. Hearing a new Josh Rouse record is like throwing open the doors and windows of your house when Spring finally arrives and once again rediscovering that the rooms you’ve lived in for so many winter months are still capable of stirring different and better thoughts and memories by the simple transformative power of a bit more light and warmth to chase away the cobwebs and shadows from what were previously dark surfaces and cold corners.
What does it all *mean*?
That familiarity in music doesn’t necessarily breed contempt
Goes well with…
A day without plans or routines
Might suit people who like…
“Sweet dreams, till sunbeams find you
Gotta keep dreaming leave all worries behind you”