In the interests of transparency, I should perhaps put my metaphorical cards on the table at the start of this review.
Firstly, I think that Josh Rouse is the very best songwriter out there at the moment, having released a string of classic albums over the last twenty years. Secondly, I am a keen student of the Christmas album, hoovering up seasonal offerings like there’s no tomorrow (maybe ‘like there’s no Boxing Day’ would work better?). Tracey Thorn, Smith & Burrows, Sufjan Stevens and even going back to classics like The Andy Williams Christmas Album, my Yuletide tunes threshold is very high.
So, the arrival of a festive record from Josh Rouse should be right up my street. And even having listened to it for the first time in October, I am happy to confirm that this album is indeed a welcome addition to the Christmas canon.
The Holiday Sounds Of Josh Rouse bursts into life with the jovial ‘Mediterranean X-Mas’, a light and fizzy verse running into a typically bittersweet mid-section before picking back up where it started. ‘Red Suit’ is more evidence of Rouse having fun and not taking himself at all seriously, singing “Santa’s getting ready /Ray-Bans on, combs his silver curls”, over a Temptations-style track. There are some nice subtle backing vocals and Hammond organ flashes to give the song a classic feel.
‘New York Holiday’ has a smoky, jazzy feel with brushed drums and playful piano, but as ever, there’s a kind of sweet melancholy to pull the listener in. The record is a Christmas record more in the lyrics than the music – Rouse has avoided festive musical cliches such as sleigh bells in favour of his own classic sound, more a return to the feel of his older work rather than last year’s synthpop-flavoured Love In The Modern Age, which was a surprising and brilliant left turn.
‘Sleigh Brother Bill’ rattles along with rolling drums and a keen chorus, while ‘Lights Of Town’ is Rouse-plays-Nina Simone, echoes of the famous ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ piano line spread liberally across the playful song. ‘Letters In The Mailbox’ is a downbeat track but beautifully atmospheric with heartbreakingly lonely lyrics: “Letters in the mailbox / A couple months gone by / I’ve been looking forward / To reading your reply”.
‘Heartbreak Holiday’ is not the only song on the album where the word ‘holiday’ could be interpreted in the British way – i.e. A summer break, rather than the American meaning of Christmas, as Rouse’s default setting seems to be Summery. Even one of his best-known tracks ‘Winter In The Hamptons’ has a sunshine feel to it.
‘Christmas Songs’ closes the album and is a beautifully written homage to festive songs of the past, from ‘Deck the Halls and Silent Night’ to name-checking Nat ‘King’ Cole.
With this, his twelfth full-length album, Josh Rouse has produced a record worthy of his sublime back catalogue. If it sounds this good in October, just imagine how magical it might be come December.
The Holiday Sounds Of Josh Rouse is released by Yep Roc Records on 1st November 2019.