I was given the task of reviewing The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse by my dear editor a month or so ago. The mistake I made was in not telling her I only listen to Christmas music after Thanksgiving, deadline be damned. So now that turkey day has come and gone, I can set pen to paper, pour some spiked eggnog and enjoy this season’s new holiday offerings. I have been a Josh Rouse fan and loyal supporter since before his debut album, the still stunning Dressed Up Like Nebraska, came out in 1998 so I was excitedly anticipating what his first holiday record would bring. I was immediately bowled over with the instantly catchy “Mediterranean X-Mas” kicking off the collection. Enlisting the same crew of folks that helped make his 1972 album, the song swings effortlessly, instantly engages the listener and thankfully is not derivative of his previous work. A little funky with a groove that pushes the track forward it gave me higher hopes for the remaining tracks.
“Red Suit” is easily one of my favorite two or three songs on the album. An interesting take on how the red suit Santa wears creates an immediate sense of well being for the big man himself. A pulsing bass line and organ fills give the song a throwback feel and with it, a new Christmas classic is born. I usually listen to this one at least three or four times before I move forward in the collection. Tied with the first two tracks “New York Holiday” effortlessly conjures up scenes and sounds from A Charlie Brown Christmas. It is the perfect blend of subject matter and Rouse’s signature style. “Easy Man” gets a little funky as the tale of how the season puts him in the proper holiday mood grooves along. “Sleigh Brother Bill” and “Lights of Town” are sure to find room on your holiday playlists this season right alongside the smoke-filled room, jazz inflected feel of “Letters in the Mailbox.” Josh has always had a knack for sounding upbeat while delivering a dour message and this finds him well with “Heartbreak Holiday”, before “Christmas Songs” with its twinkling keys and yearning vocals closes the album.
The record is perfect, absolutely perfect. Recorded over a four-day period at Nashville’s Alex the Great studio with longtime collaborator Brad Jones, The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse does what many Christmas albums fail to do. Typically, they forgo the signature stylings of the artist in an attempt to comply with what is expected of a Christmas album and in doing so lose the spark that should have driven the album to begin with. But not with this collection. Instead, all of the things, real and intangible, that make Josh Rouse such a compelling artist come home to roost. This is more than a Christmas album, it is an album that uses Christmas as the back drop to the overriding themes of joy, heartbreak, loneliness, happiness and belief to give listeners more than we usually expect. This is now my new favorite Christmas album and considering that it has knocked Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper off its pedestal that is really saying something. https://www.joshrouse.com