by: Josh Rouse

Josh Rouse's album from 2003 1972 was hailed by many as a triumph. He cast aside the gloom that pervaded his early records, opened up his sound to include such disparate sources as Memphis soul, '70s soft rock, '60s baroque pop and straight-ahead danceable pop. Easily the equal of any of his contemporary's work, one had the fear that it might have represented a one-time-only peak performance. Not to worry. Nashville reunites Rouse with producer Brad Jones and the two have concocted a sound even bouncier and dreamier than the already impossibly dreamy and bouncy 1972. There are hints of all the styles Rouse references on 1972 but here they are integrated into his sound more smoothly. Jones adds all kinds of varied keyboards, strings, guitar sounds, bits of sonic trickery and atmosphere to that sound which leads to each song sounding similar but also quite different. The production and sound are half the game and Rouse doesn't let his half down, as his songs are incredibly strong on Nashville. "Streetlights," the Smiths-influenced "Winter in the Hamptons," "Carolina," and the heart-broken piano ballad "Sad Eyes"; they are as hooky as anything on 1972 but have more weight and emotional power. By the time each song is through it is stamped into your memory, turning the record into an instantly familiar kind of classic. His lyrics are as sharp and surprising as ever. He is incredibly adept at dropping in lines that shock you in a very pleasant way; the very first song, the sweetly gliding "It's the Nighttime," has the wonderful lines "maybe later on/after the late, late show/we can go to your room/ I can try on your clothes." His storytelling skills are sharp, too, as the teen angst epic "Middle School Frown" amply demonstrates. Apparently his personal life has seen all kinds of upheaval in the last little while but you'd be hard pressed to hear it in the sunny melodies. You can hear hints of it in the lyrics if you listen hard especially on "My Love Has Gone" (unsurprisingly) and "Saturday." You can also hear it in the melancholy catch in Rouse's whispery vocals. Even the jauntiest song on the album is reeled in a little. The contrast between happy melodies and sad lyrics is one of the oldest tricks in the pop book and when it is pulled off as well as Rouse does here, you have to be impressed. In fact the whole record is worthy of any and all accolades you might want to shower upon it. Somebody will really have to pull off a miracle to top Nashville as far as intelligent, honest and entertaining guitar pop goes in 2005. Or any other year. ~ Tim Sendra

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