Sean Rowe – The Salesman and the Shark

January 01, 1970


On “Signs,” one of The Salesman
and the Shark
‘s 12 gruffly poetic tunes, Sean Rowe growls again and again
that “I’m getting older.” Well, we all are, but Rowe will never catch
up to his grizzled models: Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison. The
mid-thirty-something upstate New Yorker sounds as if he’s still shadowing his
elders, hoping to pocket some unfinished verses they left behind at the Grog
and Woe pub.

Artfully produced by Woody Jackson, Rowe’s third album expands on the stark
style of its predecessor, Magic. Most
of the tracks add a full band, and some feature strings; there are also some
well-known female guest vocalists, including Inara George, Petra Haden and
Isobel Campbell. The jazz-folk-rock arrangements nicely balance subtlety and
sweep, but Rowe’s dirges tip the balance toward melodrama. At least the two
upbeat numbers, “Horses” and “Downwind,” can gallop past
their cliches.

While Rowe’s deep-baritone delivery conveys intimacy, his lyrics are a grab-bag
of overwrought, secondhand images. The opening “Bring Back the Night”
asks to “let it bleed one more time/Let the moon be my drum,” while
the closing “Long Way Home” supposes that “there’s nothing that
ever could be smiling quite like/Death at the door.” In “The
Well,” strings weep as Rowe laments that “I left my sacred book out
in the rain.” No wonder his overly solemn ballads are as soggy as “MacArthur Park’s” cake.


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