Josh Rouse - Subtitulo Review
By Patrick Muldowney
Josh Rouse has recently embarked on a new life in Spain, and Subtitulo, his 6th full length release, but first outside Tennessee, seems to celebrate this transition. Given this change in lifestyle, the album seems to become a metaphoric crossroads. There are moments during Subtitulo, where you may swear you are listening to a Paul Simon-like talent, and other circumstances where it might be imagined Rouse has his hat on crooked in his best Mr. A to the Z (Jason Mraz) pose. Preferring longevity and quality over dull-witted sex appeal, this review will concentrate on the thoughtful moments of Subtitulo.
Listeners should immediately be drawn to the subtle beauty of "Quiet Town", a song that signifies Rouses' comfort with his new surroundings compared to Nashville, a Mecca for musicians. With the accompaniment of strings, this ballad should make those in quiet towns smile in peaceful agreement, while possibly leaving city dwellers nostalgic, or even jealous. "Quiet Town", also cements the comparison to Paul Simon, as Rouse brings characters like Mr. Driscoll, the grocer who "just stands there with a smile," to life. Rouse, like Mr. Driscoll, welcomes you into his world of poignant simplicity with this song.
The next two tracks, once again, offer lyrical simplicity, although it borders more on perverted, than poignant. In the song "Summertime", the funky, acoustic groove meshes poorly with memories of "fingerbangin'", calling to mind a discomfort similar to witnessing a neighborhood ice cream man called Mr. Ding-A-Ling. This is coupled with the catchiest pop tune on the album, "It Looks Like Love", which portrays that dream girl who takes pornographic pictures for her man, but it does have an innocence that "Summertime" lacks, especially since the music is more upbeat, and his voice has a lighter tone.
Overall, "Jersey Clowns" may be the best song on the album. Like "Quiet Town", it is effectively befitting a ballad. Rouse tells the story of Dan, who is already down on his luck, and will soon be returning home to an adulteress wife. Rouse, as one of his friends, is realizing he, and the other guys, are not a suitable support group for Dan. During the chorus, he sings, "being down with some Jersey clowns/can almost drive you insane." For an instant, Rouse reveals an American soul similar to great lyricists like Paul Westerberg and Bruce Springsteen, making "Jersey Clowns" an every man song.
Regardless of song quality, it must be noted that Josh Rouse has a tremendous voice, with nearly perfect tone on Subtitulo. He has a nice sense of how to deliver vocals, realizing when depth, clarity, and even a taste of falsetto are required. For this album, Rouse wisely chose to play vinyl strings throughout the album, which provides warmth to the recording. The strings also incorporate a Spanish sense, which furthers the Paul Simon comparison. The only deficiency present revolves around the lyrical content. Because of its simplicity, and because Rouse has not quite achieved the genius of his predecessors, half of his lyrics drift into the mundane, cliché lines which will fail to distinguish him from a slew of similar artists. For now, enjoy what you can extract from Subtitulo, and hope that the current crossroads lead to further enlightenment.
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Josh Rouse - Subtitulo
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