Sean Rowe has one of those voices: an oaky, resonant baritone that would suck you right in even if his songs weren’t so sturdy and compelling. Even a short listen to Rowe’s work, however — his voice, the quality of the writing and the spare, yet filling nature of his guitar accompaniment — confirm him as a triple-threat alt-folkie justifying all his buzz and then some.
But the voice, man. The voice.
Comparisons to Nick Cave get tossed around a bunch, and that’s legitimate. I hear at least as much, however, of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher and Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples. And even that’s limiting; Rowe’s is an instrument malleable enough to shade into Johnny Cash territory, maybe even Tom Waits if he scuffs it a bit.
Rowe’s label home is Anti-, the same as Cave and Waits and on which he has a sterling new album, The Salesman and the Shark. The combination of that album and 2011′s under-the-radar gem, Magic, is a good place to start, as are live recordings. (Rowe’s 7/21/12 show at New York’s Mercury Lounge, linked here in a superb capture by the irrepressible NYCTaper, is a good example, featuring achingly on-point covers of Waits’ Jesus Gonna Be Here, Leonard Cohen’s Bird On a Wire and the Violent Femmes’ Gone Daddy Gone, in addition to unhurried, fleshed-out readings of Rowe originals like Joe’s Cult and The Walker.)
At least as important to Rowe’s make-up is his passion for the wilderness. Rowe’s love of naturalism originally started after reading Tom Brown’s The Tracker at 18, and turned into taking courses at Brown’s Wilderness Survival School in New Jersey, solo survival quests, studying under wild food experts, instructing wilderness survival students, and blogging for the Albany Times Union on the subject. It’s not always completely obvious in his music, but it’s the type of personal attribute that add a level of understanding to some of his lyrical choices – and for many listeners, that enhances the experience.
Rowe, who briefly caught up with Hidden Track earlier this month, is on tour this fall, including two nights opening up for Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers in New York this week.
HIDDEN TRACK: Your interest in naturalism is well documented. In what ways does that directly inform your songwriting?
SEAN ROWE: I wrote a song called the Lonely Maze. The answer is in that song.