Josh Rouse has been hovering on the peripheries of fame for a while now, never becoming a household name but providing fans of his gentle pop-rock with a steady string of consistent albums. Fittingly then, his 10th studio album is fan-funded, financed by the crowd-sourcing website Pledge Music, and it’s a fair bet that not many people who contributed money will be disappointed with the results.
For Josh Rouse does soft, easy-listening pop very well indeed. The Happiness Waltz may not be the most exciting record you’ll hear this year, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. This is the sound of a contented man, living in the Spanish city of Valencia with his wife and children. If you’re looking for the angst-filled demons of Ryan Adams or Conor Oberst, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
For The Happiness Waltz, Rouse has put the Latin touches and Spanish guitars of his last couple of albums on the backburner, and returned to the country-tinged pop of his early career. There’s a pedal steel guitar on the opening Julie (Come Out Of The Rain), but that’s about the only mournful thing about the song. Producer Brad Jones (who produced the albums of Rouse’s commercial peak, 1972 and Nashville) helps to create a smooth, clear sound, ensuring that pretty much any track here would sound at home on daytime radio.
Rouse’s voice has more than a touch of Paul Simon about it, especially on the charming This Movie’s Way Too Long, and you can imagine a lot of these songs being adopted by self-styled ‘laidback’ entertainers such as Jack Johnson or even Michael Buble (most noticeably on A Lot Like Magic). And, like those two singers, it can all become a bit treacly and sugary-sweet at times: while it’s nice to hear that Rouse is having a ball, sometimes you yearn for some grit or even a touch of melancholy to go with the sweetness.
Those looking for a more downbeat touch will find it though on The Ocean, possibly the best song on The Happiness Waltz – a great, big yearning ballad laced with some lovely pedal steel, and some uncharacteristically sorrowful lyrics about a drowning man. That’s about as dark as it gets on The Happiness Waltz, although Our Love does have a wistful tone about time passing and the ageing process.
This is definitely not an album to listen to if you’re feeling at all bitter about love or in the middle of a relationship break-up: tracks like Start Up A Family or Our Love are so loved-up they’re likely to push you even further into furious misanthropy. Yet The Happiness Waltz is just business as usual for Josh Rouse – and what’s twee and cloying to one set of ears could well sound cosy and heart-warming to the next. If you’re a fan, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.