After a couple of albums that incorporated the influences of living in Spain (flamenco guitars, Spanish lyrics,) singer/songwriter Josh Rouse changes course on The Happiness Waltz to make an album that would have fit in well with those he was making in the early 2000s like 1972 and Nashville. Weaving together elements of country-rock, soft rock, Americana, and classic singer/songwriter sounds, Rouse and his longtime producer Brad Jones create a tightly arranged, beautifully constructed sound that matches Rouse's smoothly crooned vocals perfectly. Acoustic and electric guitars are nicely layered, keyboards and nice sonic touches (like horn sections) fill the edges of the songs in with color, and the occasional pedal steel sounds really nice -- the duo know how to make a fine-sounding record. While there aren't any songs that are as hooky as the best songs from the aforementioned albums, there are a few that stick in the memory like the bubbly "Julie (Come Out of the Rain)" or the bouncy "A Lot Like Magic." The rest are pleasant and easygoing, but never really capture the imagination. Rouse sounds like he's cruising lyrically -- writing a song about writing songs ("Our Love") is usually a sure indication that someone is getting closes to the bottom of the inspiration barrel. Especially when the same song talks about putting the kids to bed. The reason it's hard to write him and the album off is that the song is absolutely beautiful, sounding like 10cc producing Al Green and creating a fluffy mood that is heartwarmingly sweet. It's a music vs. lyrics disconnect that happens again and again, and makes the album hard to get a grasp on. A little more passion in the vocals and songs that are actually about something would have made The Happiness Waltz a triumphant return, instead it feels like backtracking. It was time for Rouse to end his musical vacation and go back to his traditional sound; it's just too bad he takes it so easy. That being said, a mediocre Josh Rouse album is still good for a few listens, especially if you don't listen to what he's saying and just let the music's sunny warmth fill you up.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra