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Josh Rouse
The Best Of The Rykodisc Years
Rykodisc
www.joshrouse.com


These were the golden times, the years when Josh Rouse developed from a hidden gem to the mega-star that he has become… oh wait, 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 Dressed Up… 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 track.

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.

-Embo Blake

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