Boundless optimism has never been Josh Rouse's strong suit as a musician and songwriter, and when Rouse announced that his 11th album, 2015's The Embers of Time, would be "my surreal expat therapy record," inspired by a serious bout with depression and self-doubt, it was hard not to wonder just how deep into the Land of the Bummed Out Rouse was going to take us. Thankfully, while The Embers of Time clearly documents a difficult period in Rouse's life, he writes about relationships, depression, and therapy with intelligence, a dash of wit, and plenty of heart, and he sings with the rumpled gratitude of a man who has seen bad times, but also knows how much he learned from them (and that he's ended up in a better place as a result). Granted, the darkness is still there on numbers like "Pheasant Feather" and "Coat for a Pillow," but much of The Embers of Time recalls the gentle sound and feel of a singer/songwriter session of the '70s (reinforced by Rouse's vocal resemblance to Paul Simon), and these performances manage to sound honest and committed without spoiling their laid-back nature. The Embers of Time is a collection of songs full of doubt, but the recordings make it clear Rouse and his accompanists went into the studio in a stronger state of mind, and though it's a stretch to call it a happy album (from an artist who routinely pondered the dark side of his life), it's full of charm, wit, and guarded optimism as Rouse tells us a bit about his demons with an honesty that suggests some, if not all, of them are in his rear view mirror. If only therapy was this effective and entertaining for everyone.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming