Country Mouse, City House
John Metzger's #8 album for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Thu August 2, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
If his latest endeavor Country Mouse, City House is any indication, Josh Rouse has a desire to settle down. His nomadic existence stretches back to his childhood when his father served in the military. Since embarking upon a career in music, his work has provided documentation of his more recent moves from Nebraska to Nashville to Spain. Written and recorded just after his transition to Puerta de Santa Maria, Subtitulo captured Rouse as he examined his life, while caught between a divorce and the dawning of a new relationship. Country Mouse, City House is a continuation of his story.
Even if Rouse isnít the boldest songwriter on the planet, he has become, over the course of seven albums and several EPs, remarkably innovative at synthesizing sounds and styles. With each passing effort ó from Home to Under Cold Blue Stars, from 1972 to Nashville ó he has refined his approach to reworking the music of the 1970s. On Subtitulo, however, he finally discovered a course for channeling his restless energy, and the maturity and grace that he brought to bear on the endeavor has carried over onto Country Mouse, City House.
Although it shimmers and sparkles while exuding engaging warmth, Country Mouse, City House features few true surprises. Throughout the set, Rouse draws from his usual touchstones, grafting country-rock to í70s soul, while also adding the jazzy sophistication of Steely Dan. On Hollywood Bass Player, for example, he gives Maxine Nightingale both a Strokes-ish turn and a glam-y twist; on Snowy, he strikes the same pensive and moody atmosphere as The Eaglesí I Canít Tell You Why. Considering that Wilco has followed a path that is virtually identical to Rouseís, there are quite a few comparisons to be made between Country Mouse, City House and Sky Blue Sky. In truth, however, both artists have been on a collision course for quite some time, and it is the fans who have won the most.
Much like Jeff Tweedy, the combination of Rouseís smartly conceived lyrics and his unwavering penchant for crafting conceptually cohesive albums ó as opposed to streams of standalone songs ó is what separates him from many of his singer/songwriter peers. His narratives frequently have been sketchy, but from the Midwestern marriage outlined on Under Cold Blue Stars to Nashvilleís reflections on his experiences in the Music City, thereís little doubt that there is a unifying thread of thought that has wound its way from Dressed Up Like Nebraska straight through to the more tightly intertwined story that he tells on Country Mouse, City House. All artists, of course, write about their personal experiences, but Rouseís work is so linearly focused and cinematic that his albums essentially are beginning to look like chapters in a novel.
It certainly isnít an accident that Country Mouse, City House begins and ends in winter. In using the passage of time as his backdrop, Rouse not only lends an uninterrupted circularity to his rumination upon relationships, but he also is able to pit the promise and warmth of the coming spring against the cold stillness of the ensuing snowy season. The sink full of dishes in Sweetie serves as a prelude to the daily grind of Domesticated Lovers, and the physical distance separating the couple that is depicted in Italian Dry Ice resurfaces first as jealousy in God, Please Let Me Go Back and then as a yearning for home on London Bridges. On Nice to Fit In, his satisfaction with his new home becomes a metaphor of sorts for his love life.
Many artists mine personal politics, but most have a tendency to explore the reasons that relationships collapse. On Country Mouse, City House, Rouse concerns himself with understanding how they can succeed. He clearly wants to commit fully to his new girlfriend, yet he also fears that one day their partnership will follow a familiar cycle, and inevitably sour. As he winds his way through the endeavor, he wrestles with the idea of settling down, and he tries to hang on for the ride. As he sinks into Snowy, the setís final track, it appears as if the darkness will consume him. "The way you roll your eyes like that/Makes me not want to talk/Weíll sit and watch the plants for awhile/If we donít bring them in, theyíll die," he sighs in resignation. As the song progresses, however, the wintry night that initially appears to be darkly claustrophobic gives way to a tenuous but seductive realization that although the road may be perilous, the journey sometimes is worth taking.
Of Further Interest...
Country Mouse, City House 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!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box