Josh Rouse

SXSW Records

Phases and Stages

Josh Rouse

Under Cold Blue Stars (Slow River/Ryko) Know this about Josh Rouse: He's a sensitive singer-songwriter. That could be troublesome, in fact it usually is. Somehow, though, Rouse avoids the utter wimpiness that comes with the territory. Under Cold Blue Stars has the cool of Joe Henry (on Trampoline), the liquid self-assurance of Leonard Cohen, and the smarts of Lloyd Cole. He's the Pete Yorn for people who want to know what else there is out there. Plus, he's non-threatening in that he's got none of Yorn's modernized Springsteen sexy. He just doesn't seem that tough. The album's song cycle is that of a semi-tragic farm couple in the south, but that's only moderately important. What's really important is that Rouse has pushed out the boundaries that molded his first two full-length albums. And he's done it in all directions. "Feeling No Pain" stirs its melody into a loud, Church-like disarray. That blends into the Euro backbeat and eerie whisper of "Ears to the Ground." And those songs are backed-up against the nude acoustic chill of "Summer Kitchen Ballad." Better yet, Rouse does all of that without ever abandoning the signature Nebraskan core (his home state) that give his albums a security and authenticity. (Friday, March 15, Gingerman, 1am)

***.5

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