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Story and photos by Jeff PurcellJosh Rouse returned to Turner Hall Friday night in Milwaukee, he was the first artist booked for that room when it reopened in 2008 and it was clear there was a genuine connection of the crowd and performers. Seems like a long way home from Nebraska to Nashville to Spain to Milwaukee but, Rouse instills a sense of home and comfort no matter what city he may be in. It's hard to write about any show at Turner Hall without mentioning the ambience of this room, it's becoming my favorite Milwaukee venue and the intimate feel of the place suited Rouse's relaxed style. Looking more like a math professor than a rock star he and his quickly settled into a comfortable and familiar space, physically and musically.
He's latest album, El Turista draws heavily on the Spanish influences of his newest home and singing in Spanish on a few of the tracks comes quite natural to him. The samba Latin rhythms come quite naturally too. That rhythmic element to Rouses music comes out in his live performance, his syncopated guitar playing adding to the complex beats. Rouse's band creates an intricate web on rhythm with multiple stringed instruments rather than percussion, using guitar, ukulele, bass and charago (a Peruvian instrument that appears to be a classical guitar type cousin to the mandolin). The string players added vocal harmonies to create a beautiful interplay. Its easy to use words like tropical, sultry and sublime to describe Rouse's more resent work but there is a deeper soulfulness to the music that has been in his work from the beginning of his career.
The Milwaukee show was plagued with a few technical glitches with monitor feedback and buzzing and the vocals could have been brought up in the mix but Rouse didn't let it distract him and continued on this a first rate performance. The encore had him on stage alone with just his guitar, playing songs from 1972, his breakout album from 2003. Then he was joined by his band mate on piano for a duet before the band returned for a final send off.
Rouse is genuine in his adoption and exploration of the places, people and music he encounters on his journey around the world, using these various elements to remain true to his own voice.
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