The Past. The Present. The Future. This record is in some ways unique. One that bridges both history, and what is to come. All highlighted in a musical collection that also reflects the current day, and the here and now for the artist. This is the world of Josh Rouse circa 2011: An American, born in the Midwest, who has over his life called many parts of the United States home, but an American now living a more cosmopolitan existence in modern Europe. The common thread through this rich journey has been the music – distinctive, appealing, and much celebrated across the globe. And so the life of Josh Rouse, of the Artist, is reflected in this set of new recordings, a new album, his ninth overall, and with the simple title, ‘Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations’.
This album you are holding was recorded in Spain, but decidedly not “Spanish” in feel, or not, as some might say, ethnic. This is an album that, in some fashion, reflects a reprise of the singer-songwriter’s roots. It encapsulates a past for Rouse that is steeped in that American Midwest, infused with the spirit of the endless plains and a homespun existence in Nebraska. And a past also touched by the American South – one with a distinctive friendly nature, like a warm hug by a lake on a glorious summer evening. It reflects a life growing up with the smooth uplifting sounds of early ‘70s AM radio. The soft rock sounds of the Artist’s youth. That is the past.
But this album is also informed by the present. While not sounding what could be described as “Latin”, there is no doubting that La Furia Roja is manifested in the tracks within. This is an album recorded in this European nation, which – by definition – adds its own distinctive texture to the sounds and spirit and feel of these nine songs. Spain – a land where an afternoon siesta is still a holdover from what now seems like a past, simpler life. A society inspired by the glorious sun-soaked beaches of the Mediterranean, where life is free and easy. And modern Spain – which embraces a mixture of the old and new, where 21st century architecture nestles alongside ancient buildings. This is Spain – a forward thinking country, living beyond the traditional rules by which the crossroads of commerce and culture must adhere. A nation exemplified by the bright colors and bold brushstrokes of artistic masters such as Miró and Picasso, reverentially embracing culture – where art is life, and life is art. This is what inspires the Artist, and has motivated the formation of these songs.
And the album is steeped in the future – a new decade in 2011, and on toward the years ahead. This is a future where the world is no longer carved into distinct small units, where life has become universal – a melting pot of different cultures, and personalities, and influences – one reflecting a cosmopolitan spirit, with no boundaries. This is also a future where technology breaks down barriers and distance. It is a world that has enabled an album to be recorded for posterity, in part in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in Barcelona, and on to Valencia, Spain, where it is gathered together as a cohesive whole. Indeed, Valencia – the city of arts & sciences embracing the avant garde & the futuristic – one that could be said to epitomize, the future.
To the musician’s credit this is an album that makes a bold statement, and reaches its lofty goals. Then, the Artist is no stranger to brave moves, having made the choice to uproot a life and relocate to a new continent, a far, far cry from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. But as courageous as this album may be, at the same time it keeps its contents both fun and, irreverent. As the Artist himself has said “This album is a variety of short, colorful, pop songs influenced by the sun, city living, adapting, and humor!” A reminder that music, at its essence, is entertainment.
This down-to-earth singer-songwriter came out early in his career with an astounding and acclaimed piece of music in ‘Dressed Up like Nebraska’, highlighted by its title cut, and the song “Suburban Sweetheart”, which 15 years later still stands up majestically alongside other tracks of its canon. And the Artist continued to build on that impressive debut with subsequent albums, via his fruitful and long-running collaborations with producer Brad Jones. To many, this is personified in the break out hit album ‘1972’. It has been a career that, thankfully, has seen the Artist exhibit a welcome reluctance to follow the “devil-may-care, lets release everything recorded on tape” attitude of some of his contemporaries. Careful and thoughtful with his output, the Nebraskan ensures that the songs are well considered, and striving for the gold standard.
And this is a characteristic that is evident again in this current set of recordings you hold at this time. While the tone of this new album may be largely looser, and more upbeat, and distinct from the earnest seriousness of the artist’s early work, there is no denying that the same level of skill and care and attention has gone into its creation. As a result, ‘Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations’ marks a new peak in achievement for the Artist.
Upon first hearing, the listener will note with interest, that for example “Movin’ On” sets the tone for the whole album. It is light, and airy, with a shuffling easy-going tempo, reminiscent of a summer breeze, accentuated by layers of smooth and melodious harmony vocals, while lyrically it echoes the themes of change and transformation, discussed above. In some ways the song can be seen as providing a bridge between some of the Artist’s older material, and those inspired by the present day.
The playfully loping tune “Lazy Days” looks to ‘The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” as a kindred spirit. Indeed, a nod to the past again. And the words relay a tale of a carefree life, which the Rouse draws from his time in 21st century Spain. But it could be the third cut on the record, “Fine, Fine”, which really encapsulates the new and old worlds. Distinctive, it could not be mistaken for anyone but ‘Josh Rouse’, but at the same time, melodically it is the most ethnic. It is a song steeped in the musical movement known as Bossa Nova, made popular by the classic ‘60s’ recordings of Antonio Carlos Jobim, which featured the guitar work of Brazilian legend, Joao Gilberto.
In drawing the album’s players from a mostly local crew of musicians, the Artist has made an excellent choice. Across the breadth of these nine songs, the supporting cast exhibit an uncanny ability to interpret the material with perfection. In addition to core Long Vacations members Xema Fuertes and Caio Bellveser, the record is enhanced by contributions from special guests Refree (a.k.a. Raül Fernández) on the theremin, piano, moog and vox, Robert DiPietro providing drums and percussion, Esteban Perles (on more drums) and Paco Loco on the baritone guitar. One cannot help but notice that the musicians amply complement the Artist, successfully interpreting his sound, and his vision. This is particularly illustrated in a number of deft touches peppered across the album – the staccato handclaps on “Oh, Look What the Sun Did!”, the wild and space-age theremin on “Fine, Fine”, a twanging guitar on “Disguise”, the almost jazz-like bass that opens “Friend”, the plaintive piano in “Bluebird St.” – a host of components that add further textural elements which enhance the record.
And let us not forget to mention the opener “Diggin’ in the Sand”. Musically reminiscent of the carefree folk of Simon and Garfunkel, in words and music, it predicts the tone and feel of the entire album, and the themes within. And in simple terms, to quote the Artist’s lyrics, it indeed references the “future and the past”.
‘Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations’ is a stellar collection of new recordings. A set of songs, both thoughtful, melodious, and indeed enjoyable. An album that is likely to bring a summery feel to any time of the year. It is an album of great feeling and unity, encapsulating a full moon of ideas and ideals. Ideas and ideals that are fashioned, and continue to inhabit, the past, the present, and the future.