Sean Rowe

Raw and Powerful Blues-Folk from Upstate New York Songwriter

Sean Rowe

Anna Tivel

Sat, February 17

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Doug Fir Lounge

Portland, OR

$15.00 - $18.00

This event is 21 and over

Sean Rowe
Sean Rowe
“We are the elders of our minds,” sings Sean Rowe on “Gas Station Rose,” the track that ushers in his fourth album, New Lore, with plaintive plucks of guitar and steady drips of piano that fall in like rain. It’s a sparse and beautiful moment, anchored by Rowe’s unparalleled voice – so full of gravely soul, aged and edged by years on the road, as a father and husband, as a creative force always looking for the next rhyme. And, so integral to the man that he is, one that is constantly absorbing nature. It wasn’t the easiest journey to get to the ten vulnerable songs that comprise New Lore (out April 7th care of Anti-) – it took a label change, a trip to Memphis and some support from unexpected places – but what resulted is a roadmap for a gentle heart in modern times, in a world where the best oracle isn’t within a computer, but within ourselves.

Though Rowe has often made his hometown of Troy, New York and its surrounding areas his creative base, New Lore brought a new environment, and a new producer. Appropriate to his love of folk-blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf, he ventured to Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis to work with Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Margo Price). They tapped into the history of the legendary space to hone a sound that is at once rich and stark, putting Rowe’s deep and dynamic rage at the forefront. Because if high notes can shatter windows, Rowe’s low and guttural ones can meld sand into glass.

“I was looking for a specific sound and part of that was the rawness, the element of risk that Sam Phillips took with his artists,” Rowe says. “Since I was a kid I was really drawn to that music. I wasn’t really listening to music my peers were: I was really into old soul music, and music coming out of Memphis. It’s been in my work maybe in more subtle ways than now, but it’s always been in there.”

The songs on New Lore were often built to let Rowe’s voice come through in its most stirring capacity: from the wrenching ode to parenthood “I’ll Follow Your Trail” to the naturalistic “The Very First Snow,” instrumentals are layered carefully and artfully over the vocals, finding footing in Rowe’s sly and idiosyncratic guitar style. Much of what came was a result of Rowe going into the studio with a more relaxed approach – no preproduction was done, no demos finished. Rowe and Ross-Spang embraced an organic style that is so representative of how the singer-songwriter leads his life, and that is one of always fighting to flow gently with the earth, not against it.

“We were looking for perfect imperfection,” Rowe says. “If we fucked up and it was cool, then I wanted that in there. You let it happen and you don’t polish it too much.”

New Lore also ushered in a career shift – this time, after several years on Anti-, Rowe launched his own label, Three Rivers Records, and will release his LP as a collaboration with the Anti- family. He also embraced a new way of funding his work, using a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to make the Memphis dreams a reality, and embarked on a series of house shows to reconnect with his fans at the most basic, intimate level.

“I kept asking myself, ‘What would be cool? What would be something different?,'” Rowe says. “That’s what led me to house shows, and to the Kickstarter and to just take chances. Those chances are what led me to early rock and roll in the first place – that’s all about taking chances. I had no idea what to expect, but I could tell as it got more momentum that people really wanted to see it happen.”

Rowe also found himself on another unexpected wave – his unreleased song “To Leave Something Behind” found life in Ben Affleck’s film The Accountant, exposing the mystique of his music to an even wider audience. Written five years ago in London, it echoes some of the themes that half a decade later surfaced again in New Lore: the things in life we pass down to our children, the ideas we learn from our elders, the shadows we leave behind when we are gone. The first single, “Gas Station Rose,” is about two people trying to navigate that together. “That’s the conflict to the story,” Rowe says. “They want to stick it out, but they know it’s incredibly hard to keep shit together. Conflict makes for a great song.”

So does opening yourself up to vulnerability: New Lore is formed from that tenderness, exposed like an open wound but one asking for healing, not to linger in pain. Like “Promise of You,” with a gospel swing inspired by Ketty Lester’s classic “Love Letters” and the piano-driven “I Can’t Make a Living From Holding You,” Rowe speaks to the reality of loving and leaving, a constant dilemma for a man who builds half of himself on tour playing to strangers and half of himself tucking his children in at night. Home is process, not a destination, and New Lore is a roadmap there – perfectly imperfect, raw and real.

“My music isn’t glossy or shiny,” Rowe says. “But it’s true.”
Anna Tivel
Anna Tivel
In my dream you were beautiful/ backlit/ noble/ in the lowlight of the window/ you were leaning on the edge/ the high rises and billboards/ for perfume and call girls/ the steam above the dark road/ the smoke around your head.

Somewhere deep in the middle of a good story, a simple and powerful thing happens. You begin to feel seen. The characters have been slowly undressed, layer upon layer of hope and human flaw, their struggles revealed. They remind you of your family, of a briefly encountered stranger, of yourself.

I knew you by description/ the tall tales/ the pictures/ your short hair and your lipstick/ the smell of coming rain/ and I wanted to remain there/ a voyeur/ a stranger/ below you in the night air/ just waiting to be changed.

Anna Tivel reaches for that thread of understanding with her music, that moment of recognition, of shared experience. There are hundreds of thousands of miles on her touring odometer and each town is a tangled web of heartache and small reasons to believe. She gravitates toward the quiet stories of ordinary life. A homeless veteran sitting on a bench to watch the construction of a luxury hotel. A woman wondering about the life of the daughter she had to give up for adoption. Someone changing shape, someone falling in love, someone all alone.

“Tivel’s characters are both common and unforgettable,” Ann Powers of NPR writes, “ She possesses a genuine poet's sense that words matter more than persona, or a showy performance. Her images linger, and become populated with the energy of the real.”

With three full-length albums out on Portland’s well-loved Fluff & Gravy Records and a fourth due out this April, Tivel continues to touch on a common human thread. Her latest release, ‘Small Believer’ was heralded by NPR as an “album that repeatedly achieves this exquisite balance of the quotidian and the sublime.” Her newest album ‘The Question’ was recorded mostly live at Hive studio in Eau Claire, WI, engineered by the esteemed Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens) and produced by drummer and multi-instrumentalist Shane Leonard.

“This record feels so collaborative and alive,” Tivel says of the project. “We’d just sit in the room together playing a song until the emotion behind the story felt right, then Brian would hit record and we’d try to get it down in one or two takes.” Of the eleven song collection Tivel says, “I wanted to explore this feeling I keep having, that maybe the everyday searching for something more, the asking of impossible questions and painful clamoring for some kind of understanding, maybe all of that is more important than any concrete answer that may or may not exist. There are questions behind all of these songs, things we all struggle with over and over, questions of identity and hurt and kindness.”

In my dream you were stone still/ shadowed/ half-built/ a masterpiece of pure will/ just waiting on the world/ to gaze upon your body/ a razor on a rough cheek/ a blaze of burning beauty/ the saved and the worth saving/ a hallelujah waiting/ to raise the heavy curtain/ a play with no good ending/ a prayer that never mentioned/ the glory of the question and the answer are the same.