A Look Back in the Archives – Josh Rouse: The Happiness Waltz

Posted by Greg on Aug 5, 2020 in Music |

My brother sent me an email yesterday asking about Josh Rouse’s discography and it got me thinking back on his music and its strange trajectory. Rouse was a major part of my latter high school years and all of my college years. To say he has a role in my most formative years is an understatement. From 2001-2005, he was the artist whose live shows I frequented more than any other. The below review appeared on the now-defunct Absolute Punk on its release day. Strangely its the only Rouse album I ever reviewed and maybe that’s just as well. Without further ado, The Happiness Waltz.

Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz
Record Label: Yep Roc
Release Date: March 19, 2013

If music history was truly utopian (and we all know it’s not), there would be a special study devoted to singer-songwriter Josh Rouse. The expatriate troubadour who makes homes in both Brooklyn and Spain emerged on the alt. country scene in the 1998 with his magnetic debut Dressed Up Like Nebraska. A string of critical successes followed beginning with 2000’s Home, an album that drew praise from none other than Sir Paul McCartney.

A concept album of sorts followed on 2002’s Under Cold Blue Stars, before Rouse ventured into 1970s pop on 2003’s aptly titled 1972. Two years later, he returned with the gorgeous Nashville. But worn out from a failed marriage and seeking a new start, he found himself in Spain and released Subtitulo. Considerably more subdued from any of his previous material, the album was still a success and married Rouse’s innate knack for both melody and wordplay.

The year 2007 saw the release of Country Mouse City House, an album that more cerebral and placid than Subtitulo; and the self-titled EP She’s Spanish, I’m American, a duet project with Paz Suay. Having released demos, rarities and live takes through his own imprint Bedroom Classics off and on for most of the 2000’s, Rouse turned his website into Bedroom Classics Closet Archives, a subscription-based service allowing fans into his unreleased back-catalog. The launch of the Closet Archives proved two things: First and foremost, Rouse is indebted to his fans and secondly, that he has and always will be incredibly prolific.

Never one to take more than three years in between projects, Rouse followed up Country Mouse, City House with the 2010 release El Turista and the 2011 boss nova release Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations. Like much of his Spanish-based repertoire, both of the albums themselves were spartan, dry and airy. Once again the albums tethered themselves to Rouse’s affecting vocals and his deft lyrical acumen. What the albums lacked in immediacy and accessibility they made up for with concision.

As if cognizant of this, Rouse has returned this year with The Happiness Waltz, an album that utilizes the production of Brad Jones, who was behind the boards for both 1972 and Nashville. Though the disc isn’t a carbon copy of those albums it is arguably Rouse’s first truly great disc since Subtitulo and an absolute return to form.

Never one to shy away from cerebral, lithe and engaging folk-pop, The Happiness Waltz has few if any flaws. The disc’s lead single is “Julie (Come Out of the Rain),” a lap-steel driven affair that is equal parts Nashville and Laurel Canyon. Its successor, the vernal “Simple Pleasures” is very much a spring song and has a buoyancy that was glaringly absent on much of the last eight years of his career. Even on the first half’s understated efforts such as the jazzy “It’s Good To Have You” and the bright horn-drenched ballad “Our Love,” there is a self-assuredness at work that seems both triumphant and transformative.

Now 41, Rouse seems to know how far he can push his boundaries (everything post Subtitulo) and where to stay rooted to the landscape that made him worth celebrating (pre-El Turista). A perfect elucidation of this are the piano-driven “City People” a shuffling and sincere cut that’s drastically different from the lingering Americana vibe on “This Movie’s Way Too Long.” Possessing the same sonic terrain that would have fit comfortably on either Home or 1972, the song is equal parts playful and romantic and veritable proof why Rouse is still as important a musical figure as ever.

On the second half of The Happiness Waltz, there’s the rising and jubilant horn-driven affair “A Lot Like Magic,” the self-affirming “Start a Family,” and the buoyant and bubbly “The Western Isles.” But the album’s last three efforts might make the biggest impact of all. “Purple and Beige” is airy and forlorn, while “The Ocean” is bittersweet, cinematic and sweeping. Bookending all of it is the stark, saturnine and undeniably jazzy title track. Sounding all of his forty one years, “The Happiness Waltz” has an understated potency that lingers far after the disc ends.

Though many might say otherwise, there’s no denying Rouse’s career took a dip with much of the material released post Subtitulo. Whether one can chalk that up to self-exploration, improvisation or otherwise, the accessibility and engaging songcraft was few and far between. But with The Happiness Waltz, Rouse has found himself again. Easily one of his strongest releases to date, if not his best, The Happiness Waltz is the very reason why musical history should have a small chapter for this criminally overlooked songwriter.

[fs=Recommended if You Like] David Mead, Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams, Jackson Browne [/fs]

[fs=Tracklisting] 1. Julie (Come Out of the Rain)
2. Simple Pleasures
3. It’s Good To have You
4. City People
5. This Movie’s Way Too Long
6. Our Love
7. A Lot Like Magic
8. Start a Family
9. The Western Isles
10. Purple and Beige
11. The Ocean
12. The Happiness Waltz
Produced by Brad Jones (Justin Townes Earle, Yo La Tengo Matthew Sweet, Marshall Crenshaw) [/fs]

[fs=Find Him Here] http://www.joshrouse.com [/fs]

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