If 2014's Madman found Sean Rowe leaving behind the capriciousness of young manhood, then 2017's New Lore is Rowe's official adoption of grownup responsibility. Rowe is clearly in a different life phase for his fourth record, and to fund this evolutionary project, he embarked upon a novel Kickstarter campaign, playing house shows to raise the dough. Leaving Troy, NY for Memphis to record with Sam Phillips was another developmental step in Rowe's latest effort, which, despite risky creative adjustments, is watertight — if not as urgent as his last album.
The songs on New Lore are similar to those on Madman in that they primarily concern those closest to him; but now he's firmly entrenched in fatherhood and marriage. Rowe reminds us here that he can craft a compelling song about his surroundings in any genre, and while they don't pack the same overt emotional punch as Madman's "Razor of Love" or "My Little Man," they are arguably more nuanced; look no further than the deeply personal "The Very First Snow," a sorrowful expression of loss in which Rowe lets open-ended lyrics like "they say that you're in a better place now, ah, but they don't believe what they know" elicit a response rather than relying on ubiquitous imagery to arouse sentiment. Instead of describing an identifiable situation, the song suggests a specific feeling of hurt for listeners to relate to.
Much of Rowe's success blending genres on this record can be attributed to his partnership with Sam Phillips, who empowers Rowe to take risks with string arrangements on "Newton's Cradle" and experiment with falsetto coos on "The Salmon." The Tennessean influence isn't lost on Rowe, either. On "I Can't Make a Living from Holding You," Rowe does his best George Jones impression with a sweet, piano-heavy country ballad featuring a refrain of the song's title - compulsory for anyone invoking The Possum.
New Lore is proof that Rowe hasn't lost any of his chops during his three-year hiatus; he has even used that time to mature as a songwriter. Yet despite all that consistency, Rowe's effort lacks the frantic new-father electricity that Madman was rife with. Where he was in over his head before, Rowe is now self-assuredly treading water. Still, New Lore is evidence of Rowe's progress in the quest to candidly depict the mind-fuck that responsibility can be and he continues to produce work well worthy of reference. (Anti)