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Subtitulo

Josh Rouse

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Album Review

Josh Rouse's seventh album Subtitulo is a warm and relaxed affair, much more so than any of his already quite warm and relaxed previous records. Produced again by Brad Jones, Rouse and a small group (Rouse on acoustic guitar, Jones on bass and pianos, Marc Pisapia on drums and percussion, some pedal steel from Pete Finney, and occasional strings provided by Chris Carmichael) recorded these ten songs in Rouse's new home country of Spain, Puerto de Santa Maria to be exact, and the album that resulted is perfect for dreaming a siesta away. His pure and easy vocals, gently strummed chords that nuzzle up against one another like drowsy lovers, and charmingly introspective lyrics combine to produce an almost cocoon-like listening experience. Whether extolling the easy life in a small town ("Quiet Town"), remembering idyllic summers of his youth ("Summertime"), reveling in new love ("It Looks Like Love"), or in old and lovely love (the truly magnificent "Wonderful" which features strings that will set your heart adrift), Rouse sounds perfectly at ease, as if he were just playing for fun with no tapes rolling. Even the song about kicking the bottle (the disco-fied "Givin' It Up"), and the melancholy narratives about knuckleheads with messed-up lives ("Jersey Clowns"), broken-hearted losers ("The Man Who..." which has some cool, spy music guitar and sweetie-pie vocals from Paz Suay), and boredom ("El Otro Lado") are sun-kissed and mellow. In fact, this record is so laid-back and blissed-out that if he felt like it Rouse could become sort of a Jimmy Buffett for the bedroom set, an inspiration for people who would rather be contemplative than inebriated, people who would rather sit in their bedroom lazily dreaming rather than washing up in the foam at a Key West hangout. It is unlikely that Rouse would allow himself to fall into any kind of repetitive groove, as each record he cuts is pretty different from the last, but if he puts out the occasional album as lovely, quiet, and cozy as Subtitulo, there will be nothing to complain about. Better yet if he did it every six months or so.

Customer Reviews

The most powerful sentiments in life are uttered with a whisper...

Josh Rouse is just one theme song in the right "date movie," or just one fluke hit record away from being the biggest rock star on the planet. He’s the music world’s best-kept secret, and it was only coincidental that I stumbled upon his music almost a decade ago. I first heard of Josh Rouse in a radio interview in 2000 to promote his (then) new album, Home. On the strength of the few songs they sampled during the interview, I picked up the CD and have been a Rouse fan ever since.

Rouse's songs sound like they were lifted from the smooth, mellow-gold, singer-songwriter era of the early 70’s. In fact, Rouse’s music has always struck me as au fait with some of the best “un-cool” artists from that era: America, Neil Diamond, Bread, Don McClean, etc., and this hunch was confirmed by his 2003 album, 1972, in which he paid tribute to both his birth-year and that era of popular music. Further validating my hunch was Rouse’s appearance in the 2004 Bread tribute CD, “Friends and Lovers,” in which he performed “It Don’t Matter To Me,” the band’s top ten hit from 1970.

Like 1972, Rouse’s albums are almost always thematic, mostly finding him toiling away at love from various angles, most of them melancholic: loss of love (Dressed Up Like Nebraska), anxiety from love (Home), loneliness after love (Under Cold Blue Stars), etc. Subtítulo (Spanish for “subtitle”), however, is a significant departure for Rouse. Recorded in Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain shortly after ending his marriage, the album places Rouse in a completely new geographic environment: a sun-dried, balmy, beachfront town in southern Europe. From half way across the world and even further removed from his former life, Rouse had begun a new relationship and seemed to be viewing love from the benevolent side for the first time on record.

For the Rouse fan, it was almost jarring to hear him in this breezy new musical environment, juxtaposing images of his newly adopted hometown with the joys of new romance. This isn’t the Josh Rouse from the past decade. Think Nick Drake covering the Jackson 5’s “ABC;” joyous, baffling, and completely unexpected. The album opens with “Quiet Town,” a sweet, hum-along that revels in the charms of small town life. Still, even on this upbeat track, Rouse’s dark side is never far from the shimmery surface as he sings, “Ooh, sometimes I miss the show, I loved a long time ago…” At his cheeriest, Rouse seems unable to completely immerse himself in newfound bliss.

“Summertime” is a faded summer vacation Polaroid from junior high, sitting by the pool, sipping iced-tea, and listening to Purple Rain without a care. But, as noted earlier, Rouse must be Rouse, and wistfulness can’t help but creep in: “And the feeling doesn’t last that long, before you know it it’s up and gone…the things we do.” The album also features sugar-sweet guest vocals from Paz Suay, Rouse’s girlfriend, on the call-and-response ditty, “The Man Who Doesn’t Know How To Smile.” Suay’s phrasing is reminiscent of Astrud Gilberto (“Girl From Ipanema”), and her voice serves a perfect counterpoint to Rouse’s. The quietest moment on the album, however, is the effortless, “Wonderful,” an intimate charmer that never quite rises above a whisper. Profound? Nah. Clumsy? Maybe. Truthful? Absolutely.

While a critic’s darling throughout his entire indie career, some reviewers took a left turn for this album, slamming Subtítulo as slight, pithy, and lighter than air, claiming that with his move to Spain Rouse had lost focus. But the subtlety of the album is precisely where Subtítulo gathers its strength, because sometimes in art, as with life, the most powerful sentiments are communicated with a whisper. And Subtítulo’s sentiment speaks to the sheer joy of falling in love. It’s about how when you’re in love, food tastes just a little better, colors shine just a little brighter, and life moves along just a little easier. So the guy who specialized in beautiful music about broken hearts found new romance and made an album of silly love songs…and what’s wrong with that?

Quiet town

One of those songs that makes you stop whatever you are doing and just listen. Takes you to a town you just want to live in.

Biography

Born: 1972 in Nebraska

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Although born in Nebraska, singer/songwriter Josh Rouse moved to various cities throughout his childhood and subsequent musical career, driven at first by his father's military career and later by his desire to take inspiration from different environments. He paid tribute to his birthplace on his 1998 debut, Dressed Up Like Nebraska, and explored the influence of his adopted home state, Tennessee, with 2005's Nashville. Rouse later settled in...
Full Bio