Josh Rouse, ‘The Happiness Waltz’ – Album Review
Josh Rouse has genre-hopped throughout his career, leaping from alt-country (‘Dressed Up Like Nebraska’) to retro soul (‘1972’), acoustic rock (‘Nashville’) and flamenco (‘El Turista’). He seems not to be worried whether fans will lose interest with every sharp turn, and on each new record, he throws in a little bit of his most recent adventure.
Rouse’s latest journey, ‘The Happiness Waltz,’ is sonically closest to ‘Nashville,’ and that makes sense: The albums share a producer, Brad Jones, who has captured Rouse at his best and most creative. Rouse is at the absolute peak of his songwriting craft, and song for song, it's one of his best releases.
After a handful of records we’ll call his ‘Sketches of Spain’ -- attempts, with varying results, at the laid-back, nylon-stringed guitar music of his adopted home country of Spain -- a contemplative Rouse revisits America(na), Here, we find him no longer searching for a home, as he did on records like 'El Turista,' but instead grounded and looking back at the steps that got him to this state of happiness. ‘City People, City Things,’ ‘Our Love’ and ‘Start Up a Family’ (whose harmonica solo evokes Stevie Wonder) all speak to this contentedness. Sometimes, the most difficult songs to write are the happy ones, and it shows in their complexity of arrangement.
And like any good album, there are no throwaways; this one’s strong from the first song to the last. The closing title track is a revelation in 6/8, a delicate dance between harmonica, piano, electric guitar, bass, brushed drums and voice. After 10 listens, we’re not sure if it’s a sad or happy song, but one thing’s for sure: We’re happy to have Josh Rouse back.