There’s a huge gap between the solo career Paul Westerberg seemed to promise us and the one we got. By now there should have been a stack of gritty but mature guitar-pop albums; instead we have a decade’s worth of botched experiments and grumpy complaining. For a while there, though, it looked like Nashville singer-songwriter Josh Rouse was determined to make up the difference. His sleepy, vaguely southern-sounding voice and knack for classic song structure qualified him for the task, but he’s gradually broadened his range beyond midtempo Mats-style rock. Though Chester, a shimmering 1999 alt-country EP made with Lambchop front man Kurt Wagner, remains his finest moment, last year’s 1972 (Rykodisc) is his most ambitious, and possibly his bravest: it’s an unapologetic, unironic attempt to revisit the year he was born by channeling the entire spectrum of the era’s pop music. Rouse’s command of such a wide range of feels and moods–the sinuousness of Philly soul, the symphonic reach of blaxploitation sound tracks, the endearing earnestness of early Jackson Browne and late Beach Boys–is so pitch-perfect that the album might read as a series of genre exercises if it weren’t for his tone, which isn’t show-offy but respectful, even reverent. As titles like “Love Vibration” and “Sunshine (Come on Lady)” suggest, Rouse doesn’t really push himself as a lyricist here. But the compositions have an unexpected weight and power–the styles serve the songs, not the other way around. The Bees and DJ Matt Fields open. Monday, April 26, and Tuesday, April 27, 9:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.