Old/New Albums: Josh Rouse’s “Under Cold Blue Stars”

joshrouseJosh Rouse is the most famous singer-songwriter you probably haven’t heard of. His name briefly pops up in the music world whenever he’s got a new project and then promptly fades. I honestly can’t even remember where I first heard of him or first heard his music. I think Nashville was the first album I had, or maybe it was Subtitulo. But like his place in the greater pop culture scene, his music never really stuck with me. I’d listen to a few songs and enjoy and then move on without giving it a second thought. I feel like in the same way, his music has never truly taken hold in pop culture. His albums just don’t make a huge splash. And with Rouse getting ready to release his 9th album this spring, I don’t really see it being any different. Rouse will almost certainly never be a huge pop star, a household name. 2015 is not the right time for musicians of his ilk to become superstars. To be sure, he’s got quite a large, faithful fan base, but his music won’t ever reach the stratosphere of popularity. I’ll argue that that’s a good thing. Had he started just a few years earlier, he might’ve gotten caught up with the Edwin McCain’s and Shawn Mullins and fall into sheer obscurity after one or two colossal hits. I’m really happy he hasn’t done that. Rouse has consistently improved on his sound over the course of his now 17-year (!) career. When listened in conjunction with any of his more recent work, Under Cold Blue Stars is a great example of how far he’s come in his artistry. Rouse is a great songwriter but this album sounds like a mishmash of various influences. It sounds very early ’00s. The first song sounds like a Goo Goo Dolls outtake and “Christmas With Jesus” would fit so much better on Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity than this album. There is some hint of where he would end up taking his music, with songs “Under Cold Blue Stars” pointing towards his album 1972 and “Summer Kitchen Ballad” reminiscent of his album El Turista, but this is very clearly early work. Songs like “Feeling No Pain” and “Miracle” just pack no punch. They don’t even retain that cool indie acoustic folk/rock sound that so many artists found later on, Conor Oberst, Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller, Pete Yorn, Son Volt, Josh Ritter, Joshua Radin, etc. They just sound flat and don’t really take me anywhere. Just not a lot that sticks out to me. That surprised me a little, considering Under Cold Blue Stars was his third album and his first were pretty highly lauded. 2nd, 3rd and 4th albums are typically where artists really hit the homerun, but Rouse just took a little bit longer. While I’d absolutely recommend Josh Rouse, start somewhere other than this record. He’s got a great sound and his later albums are very good (El Turista is one of my Top 50 Favorite Albums), and if you like any of the artists I mentioned earlier, Rouse is like a chiller version of them. Top 3 Tunes:

  1. Under Cold Blue Stars
  2. Summer Kitchen Ballad
  3. The Whole Night Through

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