While New York native Sean Rowe’s previous album The Salesmen and the Shark was studio polished to a high gloss, for his latest release he has returned to the roots of his early influences and come up with a more rough and ready affair. With production kept to a minimum and the focus shifted onto his uncompromising deep baritone and his road-perfected guitar style, the result is in a dark, primal work. Rowe admits that most of the songs on his new album Madman are pretty simple but insists that it was his intention to go straight to the heart, replicating the emotional intensity of his live performances.
Rowe grew up listening to pop records by the likes of the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley that he found in his father’s collection, by his late teens he had moved on to soul and blues. These influences can be heard throughout Madman, from the raw, hypnotic Delta blues of RL Burnside and John Lee Hooker to the soul of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Ray Charles. He doesn’t seek to imitate these artists though: he has taken small pieces of each and assembled his own distinctive sonic jigsaw.
The immensely personal title track Madman opens the album and amidst choppy guitar rhythms reminiscent of early Motown 45s, tinkling piano and brass punctuation. Here Rowe begins to reflect on his recent experiences of living for most of the year as a travelling minstrel when he chose to go against the grain with an unexpected series of house concert series, knocking on doors like a sort of song salesman and performing his wares inside any welcoming homes.
The effect of listening to Delta blues is brought to the fore on the partly live recorded Shine My Diamond Ring, with its repetitive, driving Hooker-style guitar riff and stomping bass drum, along with honking sax which later delights in a crazed workout. But then the raucous, deconstructed disco soul of Desiree comes as something of a surprise, at first appearing to be out of place within the collection. With its thumping, pulsating bass, Niles Rodgers style guitar and Rowe singing with abandon, this could easily have been a huge hit at the height of the 70s. It all sounds like a lot of fun but the song tells a dark tale of a dangerous lady who cannot be given up despite the warning signs.
Rowe works through several issues in his lyrical therapy, contemplating his longing to be back home when out on the road, the relentless passage of time, new life, true love and the inevitability of death in a series of other musical deviations. Done Calling You employs blues slide guitar, while Looking for the Master is sung over a hypnotic marimba backdrop and The Real Thing recalls This Note’s for You era Neil Young.
Madman is a fine demonstration of the ‘less is more’ maxim; a remarkably eclectic fourth album combining stripped down pop, folk and raw blues all loaded with extraordinary honesty and personal emotion and evident in Sean Rowe’s music as well as his song writing.
Review by: Roy Spencer
Out now on Anti-
Order via Amazon