First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2010, Volume 17, #4
Written by John Metzger
Fri April 16, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
El Turista is unlike any other effort in Josh Rouse’s canon. In fact, most of the fans that he attracts with the affair will be as flummoxed by his early endeavors as his longtime followers will be by El Turista. Ever since he laid Dressed Up Like Nebraska on the table in 1998, Rouse has been tinkering with his approach. In fact, when they are heard out of sequence, his albums sound positively schizophrenic. After all, he has gone to great lengths to give each outing its own distinctive flavor. Along the way, he has offered his perspective on Midwestern folk, ’70s soul, and indie pop. When placed in the proper order, however, his efforts line up like stepping stones, and with time, even the jazzy, Latin American constructs of El Turista begin to fall neatly into place.
In the past, Rouse’s shape-shifting has coincided with his relocations from one town — and country — to the next. This time, though, he has remained stationary, clinging to the scenery that has drifted in and out of his work since he moved to Spain in 2005. On his last outing Country Mouse, City House, Rouse shed the Spanish textures that had emerged on Subtitulo. With El Turista, he re-embraces them from positions of knowledge, experience, and contentment.
Where Subtitulo married Rouse’s new home to his old routine, El Turista boldly pushes his agenda forward without hesitation. Throughout the set, Rouse rolls from jazz-inflected vistas onto Latin-tinged terrain, mixing percolating rhythms with crystalline piano chords as well as the soothing sounds of a saxophone. The mood he ultimately creates is warmed by the radiant sunshine of both Mediterranean beaches and tropical paradises.
For the most part, Rouse drew his inspiration for El Turista from the gentle propulsion of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto’s seductive, bossa nova grooves. Yet, just when the effort seems as if it is about to adopt a monochromatic tone, Rouse laces I Will Live on Islands and Valencia with bouncy rhythms that pay homage to Paul Simon’s forays into world music. In fact, Simon’s DNA is embedded within almost every track on El Turista — hanging, for example, onto the Bookends-like string accompaniment that cloaks Rouse’s sleepy cover of Cotton Eye Joe. Whenever Simon is pushed out of sight, shades of Donovan (Lemon Tree) and David Gray (Sweet Elaine) take his place.
It’s likely that Rouse’s reputation, once again, will be bashed in some corners for his flagrant appropriations from the past. Rouse, however, has always been more of a synthesizer of ideas than an innovator. To his credit, he stays in constant motion, refusing to remain in one place for very long. It’s true that, like its predecessors, El Turista is littered with references that span the realm of music around the globe. Yet, where many others have faltered, Rouse’s chameleon-like ability is sharp enough to make the borrowed refrains work. ½
Of Further Interest...
El Turista is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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