Genteel folk-pop troubadour Josh Rouse has never been inclined to stuff his albums with a lot of material, but limiting his latest, Country Mouse, City House, to nine songs—even though those songs run longer and jammier than usual—seems symptomatic of a recent breakdown in his productivity. Ever since the dual career highs of 2002's Under Cold Blue Stars and 2003's 1972, Rouse has been creatively adrift, cranking out albums and EPs where the majority of the songs don't budge past a single lyrical idea and half-cooked melody.
Rouse has yet to make a bad record, so Country Mouse, City House is predictably pleasant, stringing together '70s AM homages that treat classic R&B and Captain & Tennille with equal reverence. But only two songs really break out of the pack: "Hollywood Bass Player" and "London Bridges," two fleshed-out character sketches that sound smart, effortlessly catchy, and full of Rouse's relatably wise resignation. Most of the rest try to cloak drippy lyrics and tiresome hooks in retro atmosphere, with none of the organically sublime mood-spinning of Wilco's like-minded Sky Blue Sky or Midlake's The Trials Of Van Occupanther. It may be time for Rouse to shelve his record collection and start building songs from the ground up again, rather than the top down.