Josh Rouse has gathered a small but devoted following over the course of six albums (plus an EP with kindred spirit Kurt Wagner of Lambchop), and the cabaret tables that surround the small stage at Madame Jo Jo’s are packed. He’s in town tonight for a low-key acoustic set to launch new album ‘Country Mouse, City House’.
The attentive crowd quietens reverentially as Rouse opens with a handful of songs from the new album. ‘London Bridges’ and ‘Sweetie’, like many of his songs, detail the minutiae of relationships, the bittersweet moments when love is just out of reach. He made his name recording in Nashville, but these days splits his time between New York and his new home in Andalucia, and traveller’s tune ‘Pilgrim’ is a steady-rolling account of trekking in northern Spain.
Eager for songs they know, the audience stir again when he revisits previous albums. Now relaxing in this intimate setting, they spontaneously join in singing along with the first old song he plays, ’It’s The Nighttime’. Rouse is clearly pleased and it won’t be the last time they accompany him.
Highlights come from ‘1972’, his 2003 concept album that fused country-soul with the AM-radio rock of his youth, and its follow-up, ‘Nashville’, a swansong to his old home. As he sings of “grooving to a Carole King tune”, the smooth sound of ‘1972’ itself shows Rouse’s lineage back to the singer-songwriters of early 70s Brill Building pop, as does the funky swing of new track ‘Hollywood Bass Player’.
Following ‘Love Vibration’, Rouse can’t help confessing he thinks it’s a great song, and, even stripped of horns and sax here, it really is. The exquisite sadness of ‘My Love Has Gone’ closes the set, with plucked guitar and harmonica delicately weaving around his hushed vocal.
‘Country Mouse, City House’ might not stray far from Rouse’s template of melodic country-pop but a new set of sun-soaked tales are always welcome from this easy-going troubadour.
Words by Alex Cotterill.