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Return of the long player

/ Source: contributor

I know, I know.  You can’t judge a record by its cover.  But in the case of Josh Rouse’s new compact disc, “Nashville,” you can at least get an understanding of where the artist’s head is at.

Rouse’s last album, which was entitled “1972” (incidentally, the year that Josh was born), was filled with ’70s grooves that referenced Carole King and love vibrations.  This cat is no stranger to nostalgia, so it is not surprising that the top line of his newest album cover is blazoned with the word STEREO, a nod to the days of vinyl recordings where the stamp assured the buyer that they were getting the best that recording technology had to offer.  Today’s buyers may be scratching their heads at this point.  “Stereo…and what’s the alternative?” they may be asking. 

The second* item of interest on the cover is the breakdown of the song title listing.  Side A and Side B, it reads.  No, this is not one of those fancy dual disc format CDs that offers the album on one side and goodies like 5.1 channel surround sound and videos on the other.  In this case the goodies are the songs and they are included on just one side of the disc.  But the split of songs bears meaning, giving the record an order and clear division of emotion while also preserving the idea of the long play (LP) album instead of a collection of unrelated singles.  With Apple basing an entire product on its beloved Shuffle feature (disclosure: I love it too!), the decision to order an album these days seems almost preposterous.  Call Rouse crazy, but his logic works wonderfully here.

Rouse was born in Nebraska but ended up living in Nashville for the last 10 years.  Following the recent dissolution of his marriage, Rouse finished the “Nashville” record and split for Altea, Spain on the night of its completion.  The songs are an obvious love letter to Nashville, but they also serve as a long goodbye to his former wife.  Additionally, the order of the songs are laid out to show that Rouse may also be leaving his full bodied pop sound behind in order to make way for a newly found less orchestrated style.

The album kicks off with two songs that are vintage Rouse. “It’s the Nighttime” is a perfect pop song where Josh calls out to his lover with undeniable adolescent sweetness over jangly rhythm and slide pedal guitars.  The follow–up is “Winter In The Hamptons,” another upbeat winner that is drenched in Smiths influence.  Rouse, who once put a cover of the Smiths “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” on a B-side, graciously steals not only the musical style from Morrisey and Co., but he also lifts the mechanics of meshing dire lyrics and the happiest of melodies, represented here with the line, “Put on your happy ’cause the forecast is rain clouds.”  This power struggle between melancholy and optimism is threaded throughout the record.

With the weather report calling for rain, Rouse leaves the toe-tappyness of “Winter in the Hamptons” behind and emerges outside on the mid-tempo “Streetlights.” This is Josh’s final plea to make things right with his lover, the town and the struggles of songwriting.  “Rock and Roll…” Josh calls out, “…let’s meet on the corner and act like we’re old friends.” The song’s last ditch effort to reconcile marks the beginning of the end for all three aforementioned conflicts.  The rest of Side A includes songs that try to look up, but they are truly grounded in sadness.  Sure, the following, “Carolina” is as boppy as anything  that Josh has written, but the autobiographical line, “Happy on the outside, she keeps frowning on the inside,” is not fooling anyone. 

By the time you hit side B’s lead-off “My Love Is Gone,” it is clear that Josh has already made his plane reservations to skip town.  Reflections surface in the following cuts, first behind the Jaggerish  falsetto of “Saturday,” and then on “Sad Eyes,” a song that starts off with Josh nakedly alone at the piano, a surprising move for Rouse whose bread and butter sound has relied on broader arrangements.

This latest Rouse endeavor may not be his best record, but it certainly is his most personal.  The story that is told here arcs perfectly, as it takes the time to look back at who Josh was, where he’s been and where he is going. 

Apple may claim that life is random, but the tracks on this collection are not.

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*Writers Note:  I also noticed a quote from Rolling Stone on the outer plastic of Josh’s new record that classified him as a “…happier and wittier Elliot Smith,”  a reference to the late, great singer/songwriter who recently committed suicide.  Under normal circumstances, the comparison would be a great compliment.  It is true that Rouse’s talent is on par with Smith’s, but given Elliot’s cause of death, I can only hope that this inclusion was some sort of manufacturing mix up.