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Josh Rouse
NASHVILLE
(Rykodisc)

The í70s sensitive singer-songwriter thing is back in vogue, with hip artists like Rufus Wainwright, Ryan Adams, and Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) variously owing debts to everyone from the Eagles to Leonard Cohen to James Taylor and Jackson Browne. One of the worthier artists riding this wave is Josh Rouse, and itís not hard to see why. With his plaintive voice, lilting melodies, and songs that deal in the basics of love and hate, Rouse expresses a kind of everyman-lost-in-a-cruel-world sentiment thatís as genuine as it is moving.

Rouse first strode into town on the alt-country bandwagon, but that changed with 2003ís 1972, an album whose butter-bright surfaces thinly conceal a black hole of depression. Nashville, with Brad Jones once again in the producerís chair, is similar in that it goes down nice and easy, but with a distinctly bitter aftertaste. This appears to be Rouseís divorce record, and the hurt and the weariness heís enduring bleed though the smooth-edged tunes. With its pedal steel, bouncy beat, and layer cake of rich harmonies, "Itís the Nighttime" kicks off the album in a jaunty fashion. But things are not so sprightly as they seem: the narrator wonders who his exís new lover is: "Does he feel like I feel/Is he standing in the rain?" On the gently strummed "My Love Has Gone," he murmurs "Love ainít special, love ainít great" as if not to wake his barely slumbering wounded soul. "Sad Eyes," with its piano-based arrangement and swirling strings, could be a great lost Bread song ó and thatís meant as a compliment.

(Josh Rouse performs April 9 at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston; call 617-228-6000.)

BY ELIOT WILDER


Issue Date: March 11 - 17, 2005
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