Josh Rouse is one of those artists that really should be a household name. Between 1998 and 2005 he relased five (six if you count his collaboration with Kurt Wagner on 1999’s Chester) brilliant albums including Under Cold Blue Stars, which made our top 100 albums chart. The last three of these albums (Under Cold Blue Stars, 1972 and Nashville) all deserved to be hit albums, well written beautifully played and genuinely commercial (in a good way).
They weren’t smash hit albums and he remained a cult concern playing excellent medium sized gigs to his adoring fanbase. He moved to Spain in 2006 and has spent the last five years releasing laid back albums that reflect the mood of an American in Espana. These albums have all been good, with the odd brilliant track, but haven’t quite managed to hit the heights of his earlier work. His latest album, released on his Bedroom Classics label, introduces his new band, The Long Vacations.
From the start, with the opening track ‘Diggin’ in The sand’, it is clear that Rouse is continuing with the more relaxed Spanish influenced sound that has informed his last few albums. The synthesis of Spanish playing styles and American musical influences (and English as well, The Kinks influenced languid Summer pop of ‘Lazy Days’) works brilliantly now Rouse has had several years to perfect it.
Lyrically things are much simpler than they were on Rouse’s American based albums, and I must admit that I miss the emotional impact of ‘Late Night Conversation’ and ‘Sad Eyes’. However, one of Rouse’s strengths is that his music has always seemed honest and real, and what we hear on this album is the honest reflection of his current mental and musical state of mind. That doesn’t mean that the music is throwaway, there is a melancholic mood on several songs, even the bossanova groove and spirited playing of ‘Fine Fine’ seems to mask a sadness.
At only nine songs in length this is a compact and focussed recording, which means that it is his most consistently enjoyable album for years and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. It may not hit the heights of his best work but there isn’t a bad song on the album and a few stand out as worthy additions to any future compilations. ‘To The Clock, To the City’ has a beautiful melody that sinks claws into your brain and ‘Oh, Look What the Sun Did!’ might have been a surprise hit if it had been released some three months earlier.
The album is superbly produced and arranged, presumably by Rouse himself, and has such a lush relaxed feel that perfectly suits the songs and Rouse’s smooth understated vocals. A lot of credit also goes to his new band mates, Xema Fuertes and Cayo Bellveser, who (along with a handful of guests) play the songs with skill and subtlety.
Also worth noting is that the CD cover is beautifully designed, probably my favourite packaging of any album so far this year. The Saul Bass influenced front cover perfectly sums up the mood and feel of the album, and the back cover has the classic look of vintage LP covers from the early 1960s.
Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations finds a great artist in fine voice seeming happy, relaxed and producing his best album in years.
By Dorian Rogers