There's a huge gap between the solo career Paul Westerberg seemed to promise us and the one we got. By now there should have been a stack of gritty but mature guitar-pop albums; instead we have a decade's worth of botched experiments and grumpy complaining. For a while there, though, it looked like Nashville singer-songwriter Josh Rouse was determined to make up the difference. His sleepy, vaguely southern-sounding voice and knack for classic song structure qualified him for the task, but he's gradually broadened his range beyond midtempo Mats-style rock. Though Chester, a shimmering 1999 alt-country EP made with Lambchop front man Kurt Wagner, remains his finest moment, last year's 1972 (Rykodisc) is his most ambitious, and possibly his bravest: it's an unapologetic, unironic attempt to revisit the year he was born by channeling the entire spectrum of the era's pop music. Rouse's command of such a wide range of feels and moods--the sinuousness of Philly soul, the symphonic reach of blaxploitation sound tracks, the endearing earnestness of early Jackson Browne and late Beach Boys--is so pitch-perfect that the album might read as a series of genre exercises if it weren't for his tone, which isn't show-offy but respectful, even reverent. As titles like "Love Vibration" and "Sunshine (Come on Lady)" suggest, Rouse doesn't really push himself as a lyricist here. But the compositions have an unexpected weight and power--the styles serve the songs, not the other way around. The Bees and DJ Matt Fields open. Monday, April 26, and Tuesday, April 27, 9:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.