Sean Rowe Reveals Profound & Provocative Stories on ‘The Darkness Dressed in Color Lights’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The album title should be a major clue.  Sean Rowe’s songs go deep. Just the first three song titles – “What Are We Now,” ‘To Make It Real,” and “Little Death” portend an existential theme and ponderings on heartbreak.  In fact, the lead single is “To Make To Real,” is the latter, beginning with a traditional folk-rock sound, and shifts into the kind of atmospheric production we associate with Bon Iver and Rowe claims was influenced by Radiohead. Indeed, the album was recorded at the studio Hive in Eau Claire, Wisconsin was chosen so that Rowe and long-time collaborator and co-producer Troy Pohl could work with the Grammy-winning engineer, Brian Joseph (Bon Iver) and for its proximity to a group of musicians that Sean came to admire while listening to label mate’s Anna Tivel’s album, The Question, in his manager’s basement studio. 

That group includes drummer/percussionist, and producer Shane Leonard, along with Jeremy Boetcher on bass, and Ben Lester on keys and pedal steel. Courtney Hartman was flown from Colorado to provide background vocals and guitar. Chris Carey provided additional bass, while John DeHaven, Jeff Nania, and Joel Yannuzzi made up the album’s brass section.

Let’s return though, to the defining element of this album, the lyrics.  Here is a verse from “To Make It Real” – All this sky/ All this music floating by/ One day it will be the last time/ You won’t get it again.”  If there is a theme to the record, Rowe terms it as the duality that exists in all of us but in the final analysis it is dark sober stuff – “All the hidden parts and all the guts that spill out when we’re faced with tragedy, adversity, or a broken heart.”

Naturally, there is some resilience too. While that track focuses on despair, the second single “Little Death” brushes off the defeats and begins to forge a new path. In the chorus he sings, “I’m gonna write a song, gonna call a friend/I’m gonna fall in love with the road again/I’m gonna wrap my arms around her waist/ Work me Lord and wash my sings/I’m gonna fall in love with the woods again/ Fix that sorry shape I’m in.”

He credits therapy and a guided ayahuasca retreat with helping him to reach this understanding that we can create our own heaven and hell and therefore decide in which place we’d rather spend time. In the opener “What Are We Now” these lines are hard to ignore – “…You can’t feel your enemies while you’re running from yourself/Soon all your favorite records will be calling you from the shelf.” 

This is an intensely poignant album with Rowe’s baritone voice so commanding and emotive, it’s impossible not to feel something. Another single, one that residents of Ohio may take offense to, is “Squid Tattoo,” which may relate to dreams or fleeting thoughts one might have about looking forward to a romantic future life with someone who you haven’t actually met yet and one that will most likely never happen.  Therein lies more sadness but not without a humorous quip, referencing the song lyrics, “Now I love you/But I can’t believe you’re from Ohio.” Rowe says, “I’m really not trying to offend Ohio’s sensibility here. But, a good line is a good line.”

It’s a strange, courageous album. Chances are though, that you’ve felt something akin to what Rowe expresses in his lyrics at least a few times.  Wade in but make sure your mood is on an even keel first. 

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