These were the golden times, the years when Josh Rouse developed
from a hidden gem to the mega-star that he has become
he's still mostly a hidden gem, although you can hear him on the radio
these days, occasionally. I still remember when my brother introduced
me to the great folky, country leanings of Dressed Up Like Nebraska
and I was immediately hooked. There was a resonance in Rouse's voice
and writing that sank deeply into my soul and stuck there. When Home
was released, I was once more impressed by this young man's ability
to craft songs with a timeless elegance that spoke to me so deeply.
The Best Of The Rykodisc Years is a fantastic collection,
pulling together the clearest winners from the 5 albums (plus the
65 album recorded with Kurt Wagner from Lambchop) released
for the seminal independent label. The most outstanding songs from
and Home are in evidence, including
the amazing melody of "Late Night Conversation" and the
lithesome, rolling rhythm of "Laughter". Hearing "65"
in its relative timeframe really opens up the trouble that was to
come; despite the fact that the song is brilliant on many levels,
there is a hint of the disco-ness that could possibly come out later.
The tracks from Under Cold Blue Stars begin to have that string-heavy
70's feel, even though they remain darker for the most part and "Nothing
Gives Me Pleasure" is laced with familiar rolling rhythms and
jangling guitars. But by the end of those tracks, the damage is done
as the songs from 1972 fall head over feet into bad 70's territory.
This is the dark era for Rouse. The songs from Nashville redeem
the man, however, ending the first disc with a more upbeat, though
organic, glimpse at Rouse's music.
The second disc of the set contains some true gems, including demo
versions and outtakes from sessions. The only real fault that I can
find with the first disc is the exclusion of Dressed Up Like Nebraska's
album opener "Suburban Sweetheart" which is probably one
of my favorite tracks in Rouse's entire catalog and the perfect way
to get to love his music; but that mighty travesty is remedied on
the second disc with an early demo version of the track that finds
Rouse experimenting with sounds and rhythms, revealing exactly where
the man started sonically. "Cannot Talk" is a previously
unreleased outtake from Dressed Up Like Nebraska and is low
and beautiful, slowly building to a soft crescendo with as much power
as anything the man has ever produced, sounding more like the quietest
moments of The Gloria Record. Demo versions of the songs that
would become "Summer Kitchen Ballad" and "Little Know
It All" are wonderful additions to any fan's collection, allowing
a peek at how Rouse's songs develop in their later stages into the
familiar album versions. The second disc finishes up with an outtake
from 1972 that is probably better than anything that ended
up on the record, falling back onto an indie pop sensibility that
does away with the 70's schlock, instead relying on Rouse's wonderfully
developed voice and sense of melody to carry the achingly beautiful
The Best Of The Rykodisc Years is a fantastic collection for
any new listener or long time fan of Josh Rouse. There are a plethora
of new tracks that have rarely been heard for the long-time listener
along with some of the finest tracks that span the early career of
one of pop's finest and most underrated writers. While Rouse has continued
to experiment and release some great records, here is a brief sampling
of just what the man is capable of turning out
and it's a fine,
fine collection of music.
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