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Monday, 11 May 2015

Josh Rouse at Kings Place, London - 23/04/2015

As part of his most recent UK tour, Josh Rouse came to London's Kings Place last month for a performance in support of latest album, The Embers of Time. This release comes two years after The Happiness Waltz, a record in which themes of growing older and family life, are effectively depicted through Rouse's atmospheric lyrics. The Embers of Time follows in a similar vein with songs like 'JR Worried Blues' ("I've got a stack of bills this high / I've got worries, worries on my mind") and 'Time' ("Early forties, how ya' doing / What's the deal / How am I supposed to look, how am I supposed to feel") touching upon these previously addressed themes. Rouse's music has mellowed considerably since the darker, moodier sound of 1998 debut Dressed Up Like Nebraska, though it is 2005's Nashville that is often regarded as his best work to date. While the soft, folk/pop of The Embers of Time will come as no real surprise to fans familiar with Rouse's last few offerings, the album's melancholy lyrics, offset against bright instrumentation, culminate to an overall well-crafted collection of songs.

Rouse got the set underway with the three strongest tracks from the new record; 'Some Days I'm Golden All Night' made for a natural set opener, with a country shuffle that conveyed warmth, even in the absence of the strings that are such a noteworthy addition to the album version. The subtly rhythmic 'Too Many Things On My Mind' followed, although of the latest material, it was 'New Young' - enhanced by the uplifting vocal harmonies and general vibrant musicianship of Rouse's four-piece band - that made the most impact. Later in the set, further highlights from the current album included the reflective 'Time', while the relaxed jazz vibes of 'You Walked Through The Door', proved reminiscent of 2006's Subtitulo.

It's difficult not to compare this performance with Rouse's previous London shows, all of which have been masterfully varied across a career spanning 11 studio albums. Though this gig was inevitably geared towards The Embers of Time, the complete lack of material pre-1972 noticed. In a set that covered the latter half of Rouse's catalogue, the two tracks to come from 2010's Spanish inspired El Turista - 'I Will Live On Islands' and the vocally pleasing, if slightly random encore track, 'Las Vacos' - were among the most enjoyable of the evening. Nashville was generously represented and provided rarities like 'Why Won't You Tell Me What' and 'Carolina', alongside setlist regulars 'It's The Nighttime' and 'Winter In The Hamptons', although the long-time fan in me yearned for the likes of 'Streetlights' and 'Sad Eyes' (as did the crowd, who repeatedly shouted requests for both tracks). The audience were, however, treated to 1972's 'Love Vibration', along with the instantly recognisable groove-led bass of 'Comeback (Light Therapy)', though a solo acoustic rendition of the album's title track could have benefited from fuller instrumentation - most notably keys - in order to capture the subliminal tone that is present on the studio version.

From our third row seats, the acoustics at Kings Place - a stylishly modern arts centre - were superb throughout, probably the best of any music venue I have experienced. Rouse's signature smooth vocals effortlessly eased across all the albums touched upon, from the authentic Spanish sounds of El Turista, to the country/folk of the current release. While The Embers of Times makes a solid addition to Rouse's discography, with this year marking the ten year anniversary of the much-loved Nashville, I am holding out hope for a potential one-off celebratory tour in support of this album, with perhaps a wider focus on both the classics and rarities from his earlier work.