Troy, N.Y., native Sean Rowe is a throwback to 1970s-era soulful rock poets
like Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. Rowe boasts an impossibly deep and rich baritone, a gift for melody, an innate sense of groove, and a knack for the perfectly hewn image to get across his haunting, brooding folk-rock and soul anthems. He’ll return to Club Helsinki Hudson on Thursday, May 18, at 8pm. Capitol Region-based artist Girl Blue will warm up the crowd for Rowe.
A lifelong naturalist, Rowe’s spare, organic approach and poetic simplicity at times recalls Greg Brown, another folk-rock poet with a deep growl. Other influences include Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles, all of whom can be heard in Rowe’s vocals, rhythms, and percussive guitar playing.
At the core of every song is Rowe’s remarkable voice, which sounds inescapably melancholy, tremendously sexy and often slightly menacing. It does all sorts of things well, and its full range is on display here.”
Sean came of age listening to a father’s record collection that included the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and more. But in his late teens it was soul and blues that spoke to the aspiring singer-songwriter. Rowe says his sound is influenced, in large part, by the hypnotic driving guitars of Delta blues. “I was listening to records by R.L. Burnside and John Lee Hooker and others which are basically just guitar and drums and really raw sounding. I was also listening to the early soul records like Otis Redding and Ray Charles. I didn’t want to try and duplicate those sounds, just take aspects of them and make them my own.”
Sean just released “New Lore” and will undoubtedly be sharing songs from his new album, possibly “I’ll Follow Your Trail“, “Gas Station Rose“, or “Newton’s Cradle“. Most of his past albums were recorded near home, but for “New Lore,” Sean ventured to the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis to work with Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Margo Price). They tapped into the history of the legendary space to hone a sound that is at once rich and stark, putting Rowe’s deep and dynamic rage at the forefront. “New Lore” has already won acclaim from NPR, which featured “Gas Station Rose“, and the Wall Street Journal, which finds Rowe channeling Leonard Cohen on the new album.
Check out how Sean Rowe conjures up this sort of blues magic on this video of a live recording session of one of his signature songs, “Shine My Diamond Ring“. And don’t miss the wacky video for his gem of an original Motown-style song, “Desiree“.
An NPR review of his album “Madman” said, “Sean Rowe has been playing a haunted cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ on tour this year, usually using only his battered Takamine acoustic guitar, a harmonica and his well-deep, Old Testament baritone voice. It might give an impression – abetted by his impressive beard – that Rowe, a small-town upstate New Yorker, is some Dust Bowl folkie throwback.”
But his albums paint a richer picture. “Magic,” Rowe’s 2010 debut, is full of singer-songwriter balladry with Leonard Cohen echoes, rock ‘n’ roll outbursts and spooky modern production. Its follow-up, “The Salesman and the Shark,” adds offbeat junk-shop arrangements that recall Tom Waits. The album “Madman” shows Rowe twinning his styles together with new elements: soul, blues, gospel, R&B.
“Rowe is a veritable one-man rock band. He has found ways to simultaneously fill the roles of drummer and bassist in addition to guitarist – in his case, both lead and rhythm – and vocalist. And with a minimum of electronic effects, Rowe presents a veritable wall of sound on some numbers. It’s really a remarkable performance, and he pulls it off seemingly with ease, even though it must be terrifically complicated. Then again, practice makes perfect, and Rowe seems to have put in more than his 10,000 hours in order to attain mastery over the form…. In a funny way, perhaps more than the folk-blues oriented Greg Brown or the instrumentally virtuosic Richard Thompson, in his range of talents and incisive writing and bringing tradition into modernity, Rowe reminded me of that most powerful of performing singer-songwriters of the last two decades: Ani DiFranco. I can think of no higher praise.”
Girl Blue is the brainchild and alter ego of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Arielle O’Keefe. She debuted with her first recorded release on October 5, 2016, with an EP titled “I Am Not a Star,” introducing a new sound that blends raw soul and rock with keen pop songwriting sensibilities. She is a fierce and dynamic vocalist and performer, and an accomplished writer and lyricist with “…a depth in [her] words that belie her age.” Audiences have summed up her live performance as follows: “There is nothing that can prepare you for the force of emotion and the passion that comes when she begins to sing.”