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Josh Rouse: 1972

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if you like this you'll like: Carole King, the Bee Gees, Nick Drake's Bryter Layter and Five Leaves Left, Van Morrison, Al Green.

REVIEW: Josh Rouse: 1972
10.19.2003 by Sean

Josh Rouse: 1972 [Rykodisc, 2003] (stream entire album)

Three words? reimagining the decade

I am not a man who likes the 70s - I could do without the browns and yellows, the cheesy musical directions, the tastelessness and insincerity. So how is it that Josh Rouse has recorded a concept album called 1972 that not only boasts 70s-inspired songs and arrangements, an orange-yellow-and-brown colour-scheme, and flute, but that I genuinely enjoy? More than that: this ode to Rouse's birth-year is the best album that the talented folkie has ever recorded, and it's one of the finest releases of this year.

There are a half-dozen of absolute delights on this record, songs composed with such beautiful attention to melody that they open like golden music-boxes, glimmering under chandeliers and sunlight. There's the sublime chorus of the title track, poking its head from between piano-notes and acoustic guitar-strums; there's the wait-for-it-wait-for-it-there "...sunshine" refrain from the retro-beatbox laced "Sunshine"; there's the way that the stars suddenly come out on "Under Your Charms," when Rouse sings that "now [he's] fallen"; the bubbling-and-fat horn (de)crescendo from "Flight Attendant"; the way Rouse's calls on "Sparrows Over Birmingham" are answered by soulman James Nixon's answers, the way it takes three and a half minutes to get there; the epic vibraphone farewell on "Rise." The track-by-track breakdown feels like a redundancy: all over 1972 there's spirit, whimsy, craft, and attention to detail. Flute, strings and brass blossom out of intimate corners, akin to their inspirations in style perhaps (Carole King, Nick Drake, Van Morrison), but not in delivery. There are bongos, and they sound good. The arrangements feel fresh, lovely: Rouse throws us perfectly-collected bits of folk, gospel, disco and pop. Stabs of violin fold into "Come Back"'s cheery dancebeat, rollicking piano tumbles over "Slaveship"'s harmonica sing-along. Some of it's silly, sure, but all of it's sincere: while "Love Vibration" may be dubious in title and lyrics, there's nothing half-assed about the heartswelling vocals, like the Flaming Lips in a 1972 "Hey Jude!" broadcast.

Ultimately, 1972 feels like the languid morning dream that Josh Rouse describes in the album's opening, title track. "She was feelin' 1972 / groovin' to a Carole King tune / Is it too late baby? / Is it too late?" These songs are familiar, laid-back; they call us "baby," and watch us sing to ourselves on a Brooklyn train. They breed a nostalgia that we have no right to, but that feels genuine all the same. 1972 is a pleasure and a comfort; it redeems the decade.

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