Upon meeting singer-songwriter Sean Rowe for the first time at WXKL in Concord a couple years back, I jumped right into being the fool, calling him, accidentally of course, Sean “Row” (like what you do with your boat), not “Rowe,” which rhymes with “cow,” on air. I felt like punching myself in the neck when the heavy bearded and burly, Rowe, corrected my reference. Kindly, of course.
Reminded me of a time when I wrote a literature paper on the American poet Emily Dickinson at Plymouth State College. Cover page, right there in bright blue pen ink I had written “Emily Dickerson.” I thought it looked great. The professor simply circled the incorrect last name and wrote: “Not a great start.”
I took a “D” on that paper.
Battling back from my poor start with Rowe, who comes from upstate New York, I got to talking to a man that was serious about his art, being a musician, someone gifted with a voice that arrives from sacred ground, where there are crafty ghouls and virgin angels, lots of frightened men and well-tested women, thrown into a vocal arch that borders on brilliant.
His reason for coming to Concord, as he will on March 31 to the Capitol Center for the Arts, was to knock out a segment of my radio show, Granite State of Mind, and then play a house concert at my buddy’s home in Manchester. My friends planned this intimate gig for weeks, not long after hearing Rowe bust out a version of Richard Thompson’s classic, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Mind blowing.
His voice alone will stagger your senses, but his guitar-playing is frighteningly good. The weapon he plays is a mashup of kickback and resin, stinky finger-flying burning licks, echoing on forever and forever.
Seeing him perform in such a setting – a small living room dressed in white Christmas lights – was a touch mind-blowing. I teared up from emotional exhaustion at one point of the night, leaning against a door jam, naked in humility witnessing this spectacle of song. We just knew this would never happen again. He’d never return to this house. Rowe was a regional all-star, sure, but then he had his song, “To Leave Something Behind,” featured on the soundtrack to a movie called “The Accountant,” and everyone got a whiff of Rowe.
The singer, who could easily play a character in Game of Thrones, is also blessed with that “thing” that just matters when you’re a performer. A real presence. His look, rugged but unplanned, casts a tremendous shadow of strength on stage. Rowe morphs into a brawling baritonist, charging the wall when he’s performing, leaning into every line with his rounded shoulders, his strong chin, giving life to the words, the story behind the sound.
Youtube Sean Rowe and you will find yourself in a bevy of terrific stuff, originals like “Madman” and “Signs” will take you to task. The songs he has chosen to cover are done with an originality that makes each remake sound brand new. “Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC is downright greasy. “Luckenbach, Texas” turns a warm can of beer into gold dust. “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne has you rooting for the street rat romantically pining for his muse.
Catch him if you can Sunday March 31 in Concord at 7:30. Tickets are $20. You won’t regret it.