Originally hailing from rural Nebraska, Josh Rouse has carved out a distinguished career (ten albums since 1998) as a quality musician and songwriter. His new LP The Embers of Time was released this April via Yep Roc Records.
“It’s my surreal expat therapy record,” observes Rouse. The new album takes inspiration from his self-admitted crisis of confidence and bouts with existential psychotherapy in his adopted home of Valencia, Spain where he’s lived for the last decade with his family. “While I was writing these songs, I was having a mid-life crisis I guess,” Rouse says. “I’d been living in a different country for a long time, and becoming a father and being someone who travels a lot, I was having a hard time.”
The ten-song collection of originals on The Embers of Time contains some of the usual beautiful arrangements for which he is renowned, but it also has intricate songwriting to match. I got too many things on my mind, Rouse sings on the second track of the album, as if to get his unsettled feelings out there straight away and face his anxiety head-on. The song was inspired by economist E.F. Schumacher’s book Small Is Beautiful. “It’s a book on economics,” explains Rouse, “but it was written in the mid-'70s and predicts what’s going on today with globalism and where we’re at in the world right now with consumerism and technology. That song is about downshifting and trying to live a bit more simply." Taking care of loved ones / hanging out with friends / some big ideas going through their heads, can we recover what’s been lost / so many people living in the box / turn on your TV and stay offline / too many things on my mind.
The record moves from the hushed twang of “Time,” where Rouse recalls a stepfather who died too young and muses about his own mortality. Then there’s the deceptively sunny album closer “Crystal Falls,” which recounts a rare period of solace from his itinerant childhood – In Crystal Falls I made a few good friends, It was just another stop, I never saw them again. Pedal steel and harmonica dominate “New Young” which is in Neil Young’s Harvest territory in sound and feeling, a driving alt. country tune about moving to the country. Evocative 12-string guitar and Rouse’s vocals combine beautifully in “Coat For A Pillow”.
“Some Days I’m Golden All Night” and “Pheasant Feather” are two real highlights for me. The former about the duality of mood and the impact of external forces. In that wistful Paul Simon-esque voice, Rouse leads to the conclusion that the best state of mind he can possibly expect might in fact be reflected in the song title. “Pheasant Feather” is delightful – ‘Am I hunter or a fox, a pheasant feather on a wooden box, I wish someone would tell me what to be’ an attention-grabbing piano run underpinning proceedings. Jesse Baylin’s beautiful vocals are a feature here.
He split time recording the album between Valencia and his American home base of Nashville, and enlisted Brad Jones (Justin Townes Earle) as producer.
There’s a lot of appeal to The Embers of Time. Delicate lyrics, strong arrangements and you might get some free therapy while you listen to a man who’s had some serious experience. And hell there’s even Howe Gelb of Giant Sand fame adding irony on the piano. Recommended.