JOSH ROUSE @ KITCHEN GARDEN CAFE, BIRMINGHAM 01/07/2024

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Walking out into the street after Josh Rouse has finished is odd. Basically, it is chucking it down. This is not the “Summer Rain” that Belinda Carlisle talked about. This is cold, wet, and miserable.

It was a far cry from five minutes before when Rouse had been wandering around a sold-out Kitchen Garden Cafe singing “Love Vibration.” As warm as a West Coast breeze and turned into a singalong, it ends a gig that could be described in one word: “Lovely.”

But one-word reviews aren’t the done thing, so Rouse is embodying the Ian Hunter maxim of it being a mighty long way down rock ‘n’ roll. He was performing at Glastonbury a couple of days ago, and now he’s “in someone’s living room.”

And there is something in that. He’s in the Kitchen Garden Café, and there’s something about the place that makes for intimacy and warmth. Such a vibe suits him perfectly.

He’s solo here, and you can’t help but feel that in so doing, he embodies the absolute of singer/songwriter traditions. Hearing “Waiting In The Blue” and the like is exactly what you’d want. Likewise, “1972” is a calming thought, steeped in history.

Rouse is a good storyteller – not least because he doesn’t overdo it. He talks about being Nick Lowe’s chauffeur before he plays a superb “Cruel To Be Kind,” his father before “The Lonely Postman,” and his time in Spain before he plays “Quiet Town.”

It’s striking too, that even with just his acoustic and a harmonica for company, there’s a full range of sounds. “Comeback” is funky, and he’s not shy of showing his influences – for example, his take on “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”

Perhaps because the show is split into two sets and perhaps because he’s not played Birmingham for years, he stretches himself in the second half, playing requests he’s not done for years, like “Writer In The Hamptons” and the well-chosen cover “Lay Lady Lay.”

Indeed, the requests don’t stop there. Someone asks for “Slave Ship,” someone else for “Sad Eyes.” Both are happy, and it appears that Rouse is too. Long before he plays a track from “my favourite Texas songwriter,” Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” is always fun, isn’t it? And “fun” as well as “lovely” would do as a word to sum this up.

This brings us back to where we started and Rouse, off his stool, wandering about doing “Love Vibration.” And you don’t have to look too far for the symbolism. The wandering troubadour, with his battered old guitar and his brilliant songs, is an idea as long as time, and it’s right here.

Josh Rouse said he doesn’t play gigs on Mondays as a rule. Be glad he played this one.

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