What does it sound like?:
Sean Rowe possesses a ripe, bruised, baritone. His voice is a force of nature, capable of rumbling from the highest mountain and resonating to the bottom of the deepest lake. He looks and sounds ancient. All he has needed is the right setting to flourish and, in New Lore, he may well have found it, with the help of Jason Isbell’s producer, Matt Ross-Spang.
The sound they have created is uncluttered, unhurried and organic. The essential ingredients are acoustic guitar, piano and strings. The sound stage showcases the voice perfectly across all the ten tracks, giving the feel of a group of human beings working together for a common cause.
The songs are kept simple, rolling with their own momentum, allowing for cadences and crescendos to bring each piece to a satisfying resolution. Rowe wrestles with his desire to be a travelling troubadour while holding the responsibilities of a family man, best epitomised in I Can’t Make A Living From Holding You. There are a couple of real toe-tappers, polished for the radio, notably Newton’s Cradle and a stomping You Keep Coming Alive. A mini gospel choir lifts A Promise Of You and he reveals a sweet falsetto on The Salmon, a reminiscence of his childhood. As a keen observer of human nature, he has an uncanny ability to pin-point those moments not only when relationships gel but also when they fall apart. Gas Station Rose features a couple on the road not talking to each other and the title of It’s Not Hard To Say Goodbye Sometimes speaks for itself. In the finale, The Very First Snow, he is bereft with only his guitar and harmonica for solace.
Rowe’s voice could overwhelm an entire building but he restrains himself and, instead, draws strength from the emotional stillness at the centre of most of these songs. He has the melancholic air of a man knocked down many times who, somehow, has the resilience to get back on his feet. He is an avid naturalist, drawn to the wilderness, and has studied and practiced survivalism. New Lore firmly places him and his big beard in the outdoors in search of a resting place he can call home. It is a beautiful, ardent and powerful album.
What does it all *mean*?
Sean Rowe is finding his artistic voice. New Lore should consolidate the breakthrough of To Leave Someone Behind from the soundtrack of the Ben Afflick movie, The Accountant. Hopefully, it will lead to even bigger and better things.
Goes well with…
A barbecue over an open camp fire, washed down with plenty of beer.
Might suit people who like…
Something earthy and rootsy. There will be naysayers, those who want more musical complexity, greater lyrical intricacy or extra drama but, on New Lore, Sean Rowe is being true to himself, take him or leave him.