On 9th day of Christmas … I listened to The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse

(image courtesy Christmas Underground)

When it comes to summoning up the sounds, and more pertinently for this review, the sounds of Christmas, there is an understandably heavy bias towards evoking the sensibilities of a cold and cosy northern hemisphere Christmas.

Thanks most notably to the classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and in the twentieth century, the marketing efforts of Coca-Cola, Christmas has become entrapped in an aura of snow, Christmas trees of fir and spruce, chestnuts roasting and sleigh rides, all of them shimmering with a warm-and-fuzzy romanticism that appeals to a basic instinct we all have to be close and comfortable with those we love.

But for anyone south of equator, or in more temperate climes, Christmas is and will always be a summery, hot event, one marked more by barbecues, swimming in the pool and salads and cold meats but not, it should be noted, by appropriately bright and breezy.

Thankfully American singer-songwriter, now resident into sunny Spain with his wife and two children, has stepped into the breach offering up songs in The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse which are more in keeping, aurally at least, with southern hemisphere Christmas traditions.

Granted he is living distinctly north of the equator but with the easy chilled sounds of “Mediterranean X-Mas” kicking things off, the vibe that’s established is very much relaxing around the pool and listening to the guitar-driven folk/pop that has criticised the artist since his well-received debut Dressed Up Like Nebraska in 1998.

It’s a short, cheery song that more than matches the innate well wishing bonhomie of songs like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, echoing the goodwill of that and other festive classics while injecting a whole new, light musicality into proceedings.

It’s an absolute delight that’s followed by “Red Suit” with Rouse’s trademark laconic storytelling delivery and blues vibes very much in evidence, a sound that remains very much in place despite the artist heading to one of the epicentres of modern Christmas tradition in “New York Holiday”.

It is possibly this song more than any other on The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse that captures the way the album deftly celebrates many of the same themes of more traditional festive recordings while musically charting a brand new course through some very sunnier musical climes that are every bit as uplifting and joyful as anything else you may lurking merrily in your Christmas music collection.

If you’re looking for an album that feels like a refreshing departure from the usual – and that might be needed even if , like this reviewer, you’re more than happy to wallow in the big band warmth and loveliness of many Christmas song collections – The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse is the perfect counterpoint to dashing through the snow which, if you’ve encountered a hot temperature Christmas is all but impossible.

Don’t fret if you’re wondering how you’ll cope with the loss of all that wintery most wonderful time of the year musing.

“Easy Man” makes references to more snowy, chilled locations, as does obviously album closer “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, and how being right in the midst of them sets the soul at ease, which, if you think about it should be the resultant state of being rather than frantic stress and over-planning.

“Sleigh Brother Bill”, rich with upbeat lustrous folk/pop melodies and driving sense of happiness, continues in the same vein before the album edges down a little in tempo but only a little on “Lights of Town” and even further with “Letters in the Mailbox and “Heartbreak Holiday” where things take a more thematically introspective turn.

The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse manages to tread between being joyously upbeat and quietly thoughtful, reflecting the dual aspects of a holiday that manages to move between manic and comatose, sometimes within the same moment.

It’s that kind of celebration, split between a thousand different emotions, good and bad, and Josh Rouse distills it perfectly into an exquisitely well-delivered suite of songs into which you can immerse yourself with ease, feeling every fibre of your being relaxing as you do so.

This gloriously zen state of mind is captured in “Christmas Songs” which celebrates how the time-honoured songs of the season such as “Silent Night” make us feel loved, secure and part of something wonderful even if we are alone.

It is emblematic of an album which channels the very spirit of the season and the multiplicity of emotions and thoughts that accompany it into music which is effervescently chilled and reassuringly mellow, perfect for Christmases far from the snowy climes of yore, or for those moments when you wish that is where you were celebrating the day.

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