“Like a baseball player who quietly hits 30 home runs every year or a golfer who regularly finishes in the Top Ten, Josh Rouse’s continued streak of excellence is easy to ignore and maybe even downplay a little”–Tim Sendra, Allmusic.com
You don’t have to work hard to enjoy Rouse’s music. His songs present themselves to you with an open heart, an innate intelligence and an absolute lack of pretension. They are clear-eyed,empathetic and penetrating. Without pandering, they seek to satisfy both your ear and your understanding. The verses draw you in with telling detail, both musical and thematic, and the choruses lift and deliver. They resolve without seeming overly tidy or pat.
Josh Rouse was born in Nebraska, and following an itinerant upbringing he eventually landed in Nashville where he recorded his debut Dressed Like Nebraska(1998).The album’s acclaim led to tours with Aimee Mann, Mark Etzel and the late Vic Chestnut. The follow up-Home (2000)—yielded the song “Directions” which Cameron Crowe used in his film Vanilla Sky.
“Every time I’ve made a record, I’ve tried to make it different from the last one,” says Rouse. “I always became fascinated by a different style of music. But at the end of the day, no matter how eclectic I try to make it, it’s my voice and melodic sensibility that tie things together.” For his breakthrough album,1972(2003), which happens to be the year he was born, Rouse decided to cheer up a bit. Noting that he’d earned a reputation for melancholy, he says, with a laugh, “I figured this is my career, I might as well try to enjoy it.” While the Seventies are often identified with singer-songwriters, Rouse was primarily attracted to the warmer sound of albums back then, as well as the more communal feel of the soul music of that time. The follow up, Nashville(2005) continued the hot streak and expanded his audience further.
After relocating to Valencia, Spain with his wife Paz, Rouse has released a steady stream of high quality songs and albums.Subtitulo(2006) contained the international indie folk hit “Quiet Town”. OnEl Turista(2010) he even experimented with writing and singing some songs in Spanish. In2014, he won a Goya Award (the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar) for best song for”Do You Really Want To Be In Love,” from the film ‘La Gran Familia Española.’
The Embers of Time, was one of his strongest—self-described as “my surreal, ex-pat, therapy record.” He followed that up with Love In the Modern Age, which took its musical inspiration from the thinking man’s pop of the eighties: The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout and the Style Council. And in 2019 he tackled the Christmas album on The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse but instead of well-worn carols or classics, he wrote an entire record of original holiday themed pop songs.
Andy Cabic’s musical being is, like many curious 21st century musicians, shaped and sustained by divergent tangents. If he’s not crafting a melancholy folk rock diamond in his Northern California studio, he’s moving a dance floor with bossa nova and house DJ sets, or helping curate a compilation of Japanese City Pop.
What’s magic about this new Vetiver LP Up On High is the way these tangents color the ten songs without undermining a distinct move to more elemental, spacious and natural arrangements. At the heart of each of these ten songs is Cabic’s voice: sweet,tender and weathered—a welcome and soothing old friend if ever there was one.There are other familiar friends: the album also features longtime engineer and collaborator Thom Monahan and the same resourceful and versatile band that helped Cabic make the more dense and layered Complete Strangers from 2015.
Up On High was written on acoustic guitar. Having moved twice since Complete Strangers, increasingly accustomed to a life in and out of boxes, it was the easiest instrument to reach for in moments of inspiration. The basic tracking of the album took place over a few Spring days at a friend’s house in the high desert of California.This simple set-up captured the organic immediacy of a roomful of friends playing together on the floor. It’s alive and ever so subtly crackling with the intensity of a band working together, teasing out the melody and rhythms of songs with warmth and intimacy. Cabic and Monahan took the fruits of this session to Los Angeles and finished the album at Monahan’s studio over the summer as other friends popped by to lend their talents.
This album reflects the world that Cabic created and lives in: Jorge Ben phrasings peek out from behind Tom Petty’s Wildflowers outtakes, a gentle jangle lifts whispers of REM’s Murmur on a breeze up from Compass Point Studios. ButUp OnHigh is most clearly Cabic and his band inhabiting the realm the band was born in—sleek, economical, soulful, and sometimes sadness-tinged melodies riding on the gentle choogle and sway of an ensemble moving in beautiful unison. This is an album that breathes with you in real, lived in, natural time.