The Zodiac, Oxford
17th July 2005
Josh Rouse is a Nebraska-born singer/songwriter who lived in Nashville for ten years (until recently). These things alone could point to a meld of standard country-tinged solo fare: kind of Willie Nelson meets Damien Rice. Happily, tonight Josh has brought his four-strong entourage to the Zodiac to quash any pessimistic expectations.
With Josh, the emphasis is on the song, rather than its constituent parts or sound, yet it’s not hard to pin down particular reference points. The influence of The Smiths and The Cure are as easy to detect as that of Neil Young and Bob Dylan; the results ramble between laid-back Bruce Springsteen (It’s The Nighttime), west-coast The Eagles-like soft rock (Streetlights), British indie (Winter in the Hamptons) and even soul (Come Back) and back again. Songs like Under Cold Blue Stars (the title track of his third album) are blissful and mellow – perfect summer afternoon lounging music – yet still work in the dark confines of the Zodiac.
Some of his more musically upbeat tracks have bittersweet lyrics, and vice versa; Under Your Charms sounds particularly sad, but is lyrically rather winsome and charming. He explores both sides of love; his most recent album, Nashville, followed his divorce, and My Love is Gone is as much a paean to that love of the past as Sad Eyes is to hopeful new beginnings. Both are delivered as personal narratives with full conviction, yet warmly rather than uncomfortably.
Josh certainly has the audience in his thrall; Nashville is his fifth album, and through sympathetic mediums like Radio 2 he has quietly yet steadily inspired much devotion while remaining relatively unknown.
While he may not be everyone’s cup of tea, tonight he works hard to convert the waverers; in Joshworld, it could be any time between now and the 1970s, but he certainly makes it a nice place to be.
From Nightshift, August 2005