For British pop fans, 1972 was the high-water mark of glam, a period bestrode by Bolan and Bowie, who released The Slider and Ziggy Stardust that same year. For Americans, it was a less readily defined time, the country's sheer size and the slow response-time of its mainstream media ensuring that the last enervated waves of hippie culture were still lapping through midwest towns, even as the boogie boom spearheaded by the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd was rising in the South, ready to swamp everything in its path.
It must have been a strange time to be embarking upon one's adolescence, with a string of dismal, dim-bulb singer-songwriters serving as the unacknowledged legislators of one's culture, and a drug-worn California still regarded as Shangri-La. So when Josh Rouse told his producer Brad Jones that for his fourth album, he wanted to make a record that sounded like 1972, Jones jokingly replied that was fine by him, he just wanted lots of cocaine, pot and random women scattered around the studio. Whatever the circumstances of the actual recordings, they seem to have worked: 1972 is a delightful album, its 10 songs redolent of the spirit and sound of the era, with understated echoes of period heroes, from Al Green and Marvin Gaye to Neil Young and James Taylor, and an underlying theme of impending change, for better or worse.
The opening, title track is suitably elegiac, the souring of the great counter-culture dream evoked through references to Carole King and pot-fogged afternoons, "unemployed and high", spent "screwin' in a motel room". But it's the single, "Love Vibration", which really captures the mood of the time, a singalong anthem encouraging us all to "spread the love vibration" and "find someone who cares". Like most of the album, it glides along on a gentle soft-rock cloud in which flute, organ and electric piano collude in soothing reverie, rising to an aspirational sax break at its conclusion. The exception to this formula is "Come Back", which employs a light-funk groove and Rouse's approximation of Al Green's soulful squawk.
Rouse's tales involve a broad range of characters, from the persecuted gay boy who finds succour as an airline steward in "Flight Attendant", to the disabled girl getting married in the gospel-tinged "Sparrows over Birmingham", to the eponymous subject of "James", who abandons his wife and family for a life of sexual and alcoholic indulgence, and whose apology is too little, too late. In each case, Rouse's touch is subtle but effective, the characters brought to life in a few sketched details, held briefly but tenderly to his breast, then set free to find their own future.
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