From the opening notes of Josh Rouse’s El Turista it’s obvious the singer from Nebraska has experienced a sea change. “Bienvenido,”a breezy jazz instrumental reminiscent of the 60’s collaborations between Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, rolls out like an ocean wave. It’s a wonder introduction to a new and, apparently, happier songwriter. Raised as an army brat, Rouse bounced around the country and continued relocating as an adult, using his new environments as inspiration for his music. Five years ago, after a bruising divorce and battles with alcoholism, Rouse moved to Spain, married a local girl and began soaking up the sounds of his Mediterranean home.
El Turista isn’t just a paean to Valencia; Rouse’s musical explorations spans Cuba, Africa, and South America, and he hasn’t lost his connection to his old haunts. Most of the album was recorded with Rouse’s long-time collaborator Brad Jones in Nashville. Still these songs are fueled by sun and surf and the streets of seaside neighborhoods. After the initial instrumental Rouse dives into the Spanish-sung “Duerme.” Sounding like a lost track from a 1960’s Brazilian pop record, Rouse’s vocals rise above a cloud of piano and strings. “Lemon Tree” sounds like a modern day Brill Building ballad with a few flutes thrown in for effect. “Sweet Elaine” sounds like the Rouse of old until a bevy of congos change the pace. Perhaps the album’s biggest surprise is his take on the traditional “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Until he sings the title you’d never know that this languid jazz number, tapped out on snare drum, with accompanying strings and guitar, is the American tune.
One of the most enjoyable elements of El Turista is hearing Rouse sing in Spanish. “Mesie Julian” is a fine example of Rouse’s ability to handle his new language. Working with his wife, Paz Suey – who gets song writing credits on 2 tracks – he works in colloquialism and perfects a Valencian accent. It’s about as far away from Nebraska or Nashville as you get.
There are influences aplenty on El Turista, including the obvious Paul Simon inflected “I Will Live on Islands. Another strong influence is the largely unknown Cuban singer Bola de Nieve who inspired the project after Rouse discovered his music. Rouse claims that it was his Cuban Spanish that finally lit the fire for a Spanish language album. Still the ultimate influence at work on El Turista is a stable, healthy artist who has found peace and happiness in his life.