Q (Magazine) (p.104) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "The back-to-the-land authenticity of his gentle country rock is best appreciated if you love his broken glass-gargling Kris Kristofferson-style voice."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.96) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Rowe's gravelly baritone is as suited to the shimmering plucks of 'Downwind'...as it is to his sombre ballads."
Personnel: Paul Cartwright, Reiko Nakano, Ina Veli, Daphne Chen (violin); Octetto Magnifico (strings); Gus Seyffert (double bass).
Audio Mixer: Valente Torrez.
Recording information: Black Dog Studio, Stillwater, NY; Kingsize Sound Labs, Los Angeles, CA; Vox Studio, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographers: Marius Bugge; Vince Walsh.
Singer and songwriter Sean Rowe is possessed of a truly singular voice. On Magic, his Anti debut in 2011, it seemed to rumble straight up from the depths of the earth to shake the listener's ground. Though the stark guitar and voice production were a bit rigid, Rowe's songs, even when a tad clumsy, carried within them a singular vision of the natural world and an experiential poetry that was easily communicated to listeners through that powerful voice. The Salesman and the Shark stands in contrast to its predecessor. Produced by Woody Jackson, Rowe is backed by a band on most tracks, as well as various backing singers (who include Petra Haden and Isobel Campbell), and an occasional string section (Octetto Magnifico). The supporting cast is warranted; Rowe's grown immensely as a writer. His melodies are tighter, his lyrics and cadences sharper. Likewise, that voice, which seemed already perfect, is even more disciplined and expressive. Opener "Bring Back the Night" is a waltz ushered in by a halting electric guitar, a skeletal piano, and a simple bassline. Rowe gets through the first verse about broken love then delivers the killer couplet the tune turns on: "The jungle has built its own plans/And I was born obsolete, though I'm not an innocent man...." His voice digs inside those words as if they were from his marrow. A backing chorus joins him, sliding in from the margins and carrying it to the heavens as a prayer. On "Elsewhere," the band shimmers in the backdrop; they give his vocals free rein on top, bringing the tune's simple melody and weighty lyrics to the listener like a shot. Inara George duets on "The Wall," introduced by the strings with restrained dissonance. They create a sense off quiet drama before Rowe calms them as he begins to relate a broken love song; George plaintively answers him from the other side of the divide. "Horses" is one of two rock songs here with its driving organic percussion, hyperactive strings, and kinetic acoustic guitars. The other is "Downwind," which successfully employs surf music to further its ends. In terms of production there are a few songs here that rely too much on Tom Waits ("Joe's Cult") and Leonard Cohen ("The Lonely Maze"). That said, they don't feel like missteps because Rowe actually possesses the chops to deliver the songs, which are strong regardless. The Salesman and the Shark is head and shoulders above the work of most of Rowe's peers, and he possesses a strong identity as a songwriter, even if he doesn't feel confident completely relying on it yet. ~ Thom Jurek