Record Review - 1 October 23 2003
Honest things, they last, Josh Rouse sings on "Rise," the closing number on his backward-looking 1972. It's an apt, if somewhat ironic, sentiment with which to wind down an album that, at least in the early going, takes great pains to live up to its title.
Rouse doesn't solely confine his birth-year theme to his lyrics. From the opening bars of the title track to the incessant AM radio melodies of tunes like "Come Back (Light Therapy)" and "Flight Attendant," he marinates the record in the kind of feel-good flourishes that are touchstones of that era's pop-music: butterscotch sax solos, warm Wurlitzer runs and breezy, breathy vocals. But as smooth as the casual "Love Vibration" and the impressive soul pastiche "James" feel going down, "honest" isn't the first descriptive that comes to mind.
Rouse's strengths have always been as a standard-issue sensitive singer/songwriter, and that skill set doesn't always mesh well with the album's apparently contrived stylistic affectations. To his credit, though, Rouse keeps mainly to his strengths: a literate sensibility, the ability to conjure meaning out of everyday tableaus, and a convincing white-boy falsetto. The whimsical wordplay of "Slaveship" and the attention-grabbing coda to "Flight Attendant" benefit from the singer's attention to these details.
"Under Your Charms," a strange hybrid of sensual come-on and "Is this love?" vulnerability, works less well, but succinctly sums up the album as a whole: Perched between two worlds, the marriage of introspection and style yields varied but agreeable results.
Josh Rouse plays the Echo Lounge Fri, Oct. 24. $12.