A fine basso profundo voice is a rare thing, and Wynantskill’s Sean Rowe possesses one of the most distinctive in modern music; soulful as Barry White, edgy as his label mate Tom Waits, powerful as Righteous Brother Bill Medley. Rowe’s supple instrument can prowl the subbasement of emotion, fill a room with masculine heat, and then soar to precipitous heights. That voice is the first thing you notice on Rowe’s latest, Madman, and it’s quite a calling card. But you’ll stay for the tunes, like the rough-hewn pop gem title cut, a kind of manifesto for the off-the-beaten-track lifestyle that’s made Rowe a house concert star: “The city has a way just to make you forget about all the things you love and you don’t know yet.” The sonics on Madman, courtesy Rowe and co-producer Troy Pohl, are rawer than previous efforts, inspired by Rowe’s ragged-but-right adventures on the road: fret buzz here, squeaky chair there, rustle of a shirtsleeve, clearing of a throat. These homey intimacies, paradoxically, heighten the drama of Madman.
The journey gets gutbucket blues on the Mississippi Hill-country-inspired “Shine My Diamond Ring,” but Rowe throws a delightful curveball with the Philly soul-styled nugget “Desiree,” which would not be out of place on a Top 40 list from, say, 1975. But this hardcore troubadour really shines with the sit-down hymnal folk material, like the love elegy “Razor of Love” and the gorgeous father-son ballad “My Little Man,” as spiritual as any prayer ever sent heavenward.