ROCK & POP: NEW RELEASES - Josh Rouse Nashville RYKODISC iiii8

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The Independent Culture
With Nashville, Josh Rouse continues his stylistic re-imagining of the early-1970s era that he so beautifully evoked on 2003's 1972. His retro attitude is signalled by the album's compact, quality-not-quantity size, and its division of the 10 songs into two notional sides, as if it were an updated edition of an original period vinyl album; but it's Rouse's command of the songwriterly tropes, and producer Brad Jones' masterly marshalling of the instrumental settings, that give the album its distinctive, timeless ambience, at once ancient and modern.

It's not as deliberately period-specific as 1972 - how could it be, when the track "Middle School Frown" involves Rouse's reminiscence of his adolescent yen for a dangerous, dark-eyed, Eighties New Wave beauty? - but if anything, Nashville offers a more crafted approximation of the typical singer-songwriter project. The title is a slight misnomer: despite the occasional presence of pedal steel guitar, and at least one languid country boogie, it's not, as you might expect, a country album, but more an homage to the modern-day Nashville music scene - the fringe folk/rock scene that fostered such names as Lambchop and Gillian Welch, and in which Rouse learnt his craft during his 10-year residence there.

The songs here mostly reflect a somewhat melancholy cast of mind, with Rouse anatomising his emotional swings through bittersweet melodies and poignant images. "You watch another speeding car, moving like you wish you could," he sings in "Sad Eyes", "but oh, it's too bad, `cos they've drove away your happiness and good times." But there's always an awareness that emotions are fluid: three minutes into the song, the plaintive piano and cello arrangement suddenly swells, performing a difficult transition from elegiac to euphoric. And even when applying a seasonal metaphor to the matter of fading creative energies in "Winter in the Hamptons", Rouse manages to employ an uplifting melody that dispels any sense of fatalism or self-pity.

The air of melancholic optimism extends into songs such as "Streetlights" and "It's the Nighttime", both of which treat new romances as realignments of old friendships, whether real or imagined. "You come a long way baby/ From your days at school/ I heard you're really living uptown/ I'm just a downtown fool," he sings in the latter, while in the former he invites a friend to "meet on the corner and act like we're old friends". Nashville is a much more personal, introspective affair than 1972, with fewer of that album's diverse range of characters; but it's infused with the same determination to surmount differences and spread the Love Vibration. As Rouse notes in the closing "Life", "Just sing a song and let love shine/ `Cos that's just life".