July 08, 2004


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Rarities disc highlights CD-DVD package

Following his well-received 2002 album Under Cold Blue Stars -- a concept album of sorts about the travails of a couple in love -- wistful singer-songwriter Josh Rouse quickly went back into the studio with a new direction. The follow-up release, 1972, was a calculated but dead-on attempt to capture the blue-eyed soul sounds of a bygone era, finding Rouse emphasizing the funky over the folky.

The cameras were rolling as Rouse made this artistic leap, and the result is the live DVD release The Smooth Sounds of Josh Rouse (Rykodisc), which is packaged with a bonus documentary and CD of rare tracks. The concert, shot at a club date last New Year's Eve in Nashville, Tenn., is heavy on the infectious, soulful numbers from 1972. As such, it is the sight and sound of Rouse letting his hair down, figuratively and quite literally -- he sports a shaggy mane that is far from his bespectacled, Elvis Costello's-kid-brother look shown in earlier studio footage. Rouse and his polished four-piece band settle into laid-back grooves on tracks like "Love Vibration," featuring a huge call-and-response hook; and on the more poppy, piano-driven "Slaveship," where the cameras catch the normally understated singer letting loose with some slight hip swaying. The songs are delivered with such ease, it's clear that 1972 was the logical record Rouse had been building toward, not just a one-off novelty.

Solid as the concert footage is, the real eye-opener may be the rarities disc included with the DVD. It contains a handful of tracks that stand among Rouse's best work and suggests that his leftovers would make up the main course for many of his peers. "Princess on the Porch" is an unabashed love song with a great rhythmic buildup that might have come off as overly sappy in others' hands. "I Just Want to Live" is a gripping narrative of hardship wrapped in a typically bouncy arrangement, while Rouse's adventurous reworking of The Kinks' "A Well Respected Man" into soft-rock fare shows he cannot only emulate retro sounds, he can interpret them, too.

The lone disappointment is the documentary The Many Moods of Josh Rouse, a fairly bland chronicle of Rouse during the promoting of Under Cold Blue Stars and recording of 1972. It's mostly standard studio fare, with interview bits where Rouse's friends, producers and managers heap praise on him. There are occasionally insightful comments from Rouse himself, such as when he ponders eventually adopting a band name rather than being billed as a solo artist, fearing the public will eventually begin rolling their eyes at "another Josh Rouse record."

He needn't worry. As Rouse's body of work suggests -- and this snapshot of his career shows -- there may be no such thing.

-- By George Henn

Posted by medleyville at July 8, 2004 04:07 PM