Josh Rouse 

1972

Either Josh Rouse had an acute sense of hearing while in the womb, or an older sibling (or his parents) possessed an extensive collection of that year's sounds. Either way, 1972 -- when Rouse was born, coincidentally or not -- encapsulates the restless, romantic ambience of the time without ever coming across as too cute or stylishly "retro." Early on Rouse sings about "groovin' to a Carole King tune," for now forgoing the confessional Americana rock 'n' roll of earlier albums (like his superb 1998 debut Dressed Up Like Nebraska) for a set of intricately arranged sounds that nonetheless feel unforced and organic.

Rouse's voice is both comforting and pensively forlorn, here conveying a perfect mixture of regret, lost innocence, and gentle, knowing self-effacement. The irresistible "James" features a slightly syncopated bossa nova rhythm and Rouse's smooth falsetto sailing gracefully through the clouds on the chorus. The jaunty, undulating "Love Vibration" explores and gently mocks both melancholy and optimism, as if Rouse is commiserating with your misery and entreating you to cheer up at the same time -- note the contrasting rough-hewn schoolyard chorus of "You people all know what he's talkin' about" with its echoes of the Welcome Back, Kotter theme.

Finally, the super-suave "Comeback (Light Therapy)" is a slyly sexy blend of deep Al Green groove, Marvin Gaye playfulness, and tastefully slick O'Jays/Philly soul -- if you were old enough, you'd swear you'd heard this during the glory days of Soul Train. The graceful balance struck between the sumptuous production and Rouse's sly understatement is what makes 1972 such a treasure of adult pop sophistication.

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