With the current singer-songwriter boom now extending beyond the mainstream to encompass subtler, more leftfield talents such as José Gonzalez, it may be the time for Josh Rouse finally to acquire the wider following his accomplishments merit.
He's far from your average American songwriter, despite having spent a decade honing his craft in Nashville alongside such notables of that city's fringe folk/rock scene as Lambchop and Gillian Welch, a period summarised on last year's Nashville. So far from the American mainstream, in fact, that as soon as that album was finished, Rouse followed his heart and moved to Spain, holing up in a small coastal town to find a different source of inspiration.
He didn't have long to wait: within a week, he had written the 10 exquisite songs that make up Subtítulo, and by last August, the producer Brad Jones had brought over Rouse's backing crew to record them. While the general sound of the album continues to reflect his love of the songwriter era of the early Seventies, the more relaxed Mediterranean vibe is instantly discernible in the opener, "Quiet Town", which exults in the gentle charm of continental rustic tranquillity to a jogging groove akin to "Everybody's Talking" or "Elusive Butterfly". The mood continues on the childhood reverie "Summertime", a folk-jazz lilt of double bass and acoustic guitar, and the Calexicoid instrumental "La Costa Blanca", where a lovely pedal steel guitar sunrise heralds Rouse's psychedelic guitar solo.
That solo is about as strident as Subtítulo gets. Elsewhere, "The Man Who" is a mild samba-rock duet with Paz Suay about an unlikely love affair of two misfits, while Rouse adopts the subtler Springsteen style (organ pad behind acoustic guitar) for "Jersey Clowns", in which a gang of wiseguys ponder the safest way to let a hoodlum know that his moll's running loose. "Givin' It Up" offers an addict's promises of abstinence ("There were far too many lies, I was way outta line/ This silly little boy sits ashamed"), and "His Majesty Rides" exposes the urge to wander with a funky little electric piano groove, just one of a series of understated arrangements that perfectly evoke the mood and manner of the early Seventies solo artists.
Best of all is "It Looks Like Love", an uplifting soft-rock stroll in the vein of Rouse's biggest success, "Love Vibration". It's an obvious choice for a single, and its winsome chorus, adhesive hook and generous attitude recall the likes of Gerry Rafferty, Badfinger and Bread, although you shouldn't let that put you off.
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