On his new record, ROWE, who The Wall Street Journal wrote “recalls the ecstatic intensity of late-'60s Van Morrison and stark subtlety of late-era Johnny Cash” has created a beautifully primal work. Madman is deliberately, if not defiantly, simple in both arrangement and composition. It is soul music in the purest and most literal sense, hypnotic rhythms, warmly distorted guitars and ROWE’s incredible voice recalling a time, real or imagined, when music and people seemed distinctly more connected.
ROWE has spent much of the last year traveling the country with his guitar, performing in people’s living rooms for a series of house concerts. In a deliberate contradiction to the prevailing expectations of a professional musician, ROWE chose to interact with fans in the most intensely personal manner. This simplification or stripping away of excess is powerfully conveyed in the video for “Madman. ” We see the musician performing in a series of unconventional venues, as well as shots of ROWE in nature juxtaposed with images of him in crowded city streets, literally and figuratively walking against the crowd and blazing his own trail.
The sound of Madman 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,” ROWE explains. “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.”
The title track features a rhythmic guitar, lilting piano and melodic bass, punctuated by horns, all of it in the service of ROWE’s incredibly soulful voice. “My singing is definitely more playful on this record,” he says. The record was produced by Sean himself and engineer, Troy Pohl. ROWE says he wanted to strip away much of the production and focus instead on the voice and guitar style he had perfected in theaters, nightclubs and living rooms. “I came to this realization that the songs don’t have to be structurally heavy to be intense,” he explains. “It’s more about the honesty and emotion behind the delivery. A lot of these songs are pretty simple but I was really thoughtful about that, it was intentional. I wanted to go right to the heart.”
Madman is a record of extraordinary honesty intent on establishing a connection. In its deliberate simplicity there is pure sonic emotion. “I wanted to go right to the heart with this,” he explains. “And sometimes that meant seeing how much we could remove. It helps to have a great recording. But I would rather have great performances and that’s what I was after here. Sometimes when you’re listening to a piece of music you don’t have to think about it, you just feel it. It’s primal and you trust it.”