Sean Rowe: Magic (Anti)

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Sean Rowe: Wet
Sean Rowe: Magic (Anti)

Because of the nature of his burred baritone -- and these profound and emotionally deep songs -- it would be wrong to say this debut by New York singer-songwriter Rowe is "exciting". That might give the impression of pulse-racing music  . . . and this isn't like that at all.

Quite the opposite, it can be heart-stopping.

But it is genuinely exciting to hear such a mature, provocative and flexible voice -- from almost gospel-blues to alt.folk and bedroom ballader -- married to lyrics which can have that slightly disconcerting quality of Tom Waits ("I was digging for gold in the rubble of a Catholic church, I found a wine bottle and a cardboard box that I had to search"), or the emotional and spiritual spirit of Jeff Buckley ("She changes her skin, he falls out of religion and washes his sins . . .").

There is also an up-close and intimate nature to this album which was recorded in Troy, upstate New York, and the lean arrangements keep the lyrics and delivery immediate.

In some reviews Rowe has invited comparisons with Leonard Cohen, but that draws a long bow. Mostly what you hear is the rather a more sober and the street-poetics sound of early Waits where the world is full of rust and stale wine, the moon rains down like broken glass and "I thought love is just a strip mall, baby you were a surprise".

There is death here too (Jonathan, which could be Bill Withers or Gil Scott-Heron on a bad trip where the car crashes in a world of reality and remembering) as well as a kid shifted from one trailer park to another town and saying to his mother, "If he hits you again, I will be your man and I will pull him out, you don't need to cut your life on these razor blades or these kitchen knives".

That isn't a Cohen, or even a Waits but maybe something Kurt Cobain or Eminem might have addressed -- and here Rowe puts this bleak reality into songs which ache with the base reality but float towards a fantasy where all will be forgiven. Or not.

There is blues here (Old Black Dodge which might have drifted out of Louisiana in the Fifties) and also gentle folk (The Walker, an account and monologue from a drifter).

Religion and its codes -- corrupted or redemptive -- soak these songs (""There's a coat for St Peter, it was made in Korea today"), but so do harsh observational images: "Boarded up windows in my neighbourhood, all this particle board, it don't look so good".

Sean Rowe addresses his contemporary America -- flawed, running on corrupted faith and shattered by statistics which don't speak well of th e great republic -- in a voice imbued with sadness, and with his eyes wide open.

Extraordinary. Quite extraordinary.

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