"I'm drawing on the urgency of the moment,"
reflects Grant-Lee Phillips. "The things that eat away in the late hours"
With Widdershins, Phillips invests the insight, nuance, and wit that has distinguished his songcraft over the past three decades in a riveting dissection of today's fraught social landscape. Beneath the moment's tumultuous veneer, Phillips uncovers resonances spanning centuries - patterns echoing from the present day to the distant past. In doing so, he unearths deep reserves of hope and even humor, transcending shock to reveal age-old cycles and archetypes - which Phillips delights in resurrecting.
Phillips explains. "I made a commitment to myself not to sink into despair: I'm tracing a longer narrative here. We've been through some of this before - not just our country, but the civilization as a whole..."
The urgency that first spurred Phillips informs Widdershins both lyrically and musically, as its twelve songs arrive in a headlong rush, with the sharp trio of Phillips (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Jerry Roe (drums), and Lex Price (bass) serving as messengers. Recording live in the studio - with all of Phillips's vocals sung while cutting basic tracks - emphasizes the clarity and prescience of the material.
Says Phillips: "This moment is explosive, volatile, and heightened. It's important to me that the music reflect that - not just lyrically, but how it wallops you over the head. It should convey that same spirit of revolt, upheaval, and absurdity."
The album's title - meaning to proceed counterclockwise - emerged from the buoyant, surging opener 'Walk in Circles', which throws down the gauntlet on the record's frontline. "St. Augustine said the wicked walk in circles,"
muses Phillips, "and I thought, I have no problem with that. Sign me up with the witches then, if that means moving in step with nature - but let's not go backwards."
"Like a baseball player who quietly hits 30 home runs every year or a golfer who regularly finishes in the Top Ten, Josh Rouse's continued streak of excellence is easy to ignore and maybe even downplay a little"
- Tim Sendra, Allmusic.com
You don't have to work hard to enjoy Rouse's music. His songs present themselves to you with an open heart, an innate intelligence and an absolute lack of pretension. They are clear-eyed, empathetic and penetrating. Without pandering, they seek to satisfy both your ear and your understanding. The verses draw you in with telling detail, both musical and thematic, and the choruses lift and deliver. They resolve without seeming overly tidy or pat.
Josh Rouse was born in Nebraska, and following an itinerant upbringing he eventually landed in Nashville where he recorded his debut Dressed Like Nebraska (1998). The album's acclaim led to tours with Aimee Mann, Mark Etzel and the late Vic Chestnut. The followup - Home (2000)-yielded the song 'Directions' which Cameron Crowe used in his film Vanilla Sky.
"Every time I've made a record, I've tried to make it different from the last one," says Rouse. "I always became fascinated by a different style of music. But at the end of the day, no matter how eclectic I try to make it, it's my voice and melodic sensibility that tie things together."
For his breakthrough album, 1972 (2003), which happens to be the year he was born, Rouse decided to cheer up a bit. Noting that he'd earned a reputation for melancholy, he says, with a laugh, "I figured this is my career, I might as well try to enjoy it." While the Seventies are often identified with singer-songwriters, Rouse was primarily attracted to the warmer sound of albums back then, as well as the more communal feel of the soul music of that time. The follow up, Nashville (2005) continued the hot streak and expanded his audience further.