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Josh Rouse

NASHVILLE  •  Josh Rouse

It's always been standard practice to frontload an album, but these days it's almost a matter of survival. The market's overcrowded. Attention spans are short. We sample our music in snippets on listening stations and Real Players. You've got to come out swinging.

With that in mind, Josh Rouse's Nashville skips into the ring like Ali in Manila.

The opening tracks are the best one-two punch I've heard on an album in the past year. "It's The Nightime" strikes a match with a syncopated acoustic guitar chunk, then throws melodic hook upon hook on the fire. Like many of the songs from Rouse's previous album, the excellent 1972, it brings to mind '70s artists such as Jackson Browne and Gerry Rafferty, with a sweet blend of California country and white guy R & B. It's one of those songs you're sad to see go after its three minutes are up.

But it clears the way for what may be Rouse's best contender yet for a hit single, "Winter In The Hamptons." Like a page torn from The Smiths mid-80s songbook, it's all crystalline jangle and echoey swirl topped with a vocal that's like Morrissey clutching a box of candy hearts. And those "ba-ba-ba's" on the chorus are unshakable. Expect to hear this song blasting out of every Starbucks and Gap by the summer.

So where do you go after such a beginning? There are other standout songs, to be sure. "Streetlights" is a string-drenched, dizzy beauty. "Middle School Frown" is like Van Halen's "Jump" done by The Byrds, and "Why Won't You Tell Me What" captures some of that quirky slapback blues of Ram-era McCartney. Ace producer Brad Jones continues his winning streak, inviting top Nashville players such as Daniel Tashian, Marc Pisapia and James Haggerty to the party. But overall, the rest of Nashville doesn't quite hit the highs of those first two tracks.

If I were an iPod carrying sort, I think I might download the frontload on this album, and let those seven minutes keep me smiling all through the spring. • Bill DeMain

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our 2002 interview with josh

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