Sean Rowe
Photo: Joe Navas / Courtesy of Sideways Media

Sean Rowe Broadens His Sound on ‘The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights’

The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights shows a sonic expansion for Sean Rowe, whose previous albums leaned more toward a minimal folk sound. Nothing is minimal about this album.

The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights
Sean Rowe
Fluff and Gravy Records
8 October 2021

Sean Rowe isn’t just a singer-songwriter; he’s also a renowned forager and the host of the YouTube series Can I Eat This? He spent an entire year learning wilderness living skills. Shortly after that, he spent 24 days in the Catskills, living on the food he foraged.

Considering his background, it’s not surprising that he has stories to tell. You don’t have to hear much of his new album, The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights, to realize that he has a way with words. The album’s title hints at the duality we experience in life. Of the album, he said, “The heaven and hell that swirls around in our head — to a large extent, we make both. So, in realizing that, you begin to realize that you have the ability to decide which one you’re gonna make.” He explores both in-depth in the 11 songs on this album.

If you were to listen only to the first song of the album, you probably wouldn’t be sure how to classify it. Rowe’s vocals are in the same tonal range as Johnny Cash. They are deep, rich, and resonant. The melody is a blend of folk and Bakersfield. Meanwhile, the lyrics have the poetic storytelling quality you expect from Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. Admittedly, there are many influences in just one song, but it’s an excellent introduction to the album.

As you move through the record, the Bakersfield component is a pretty steady sound. There’s also a piano pop element, similar to Ben Folds but with much deeper vocals. “Little Death” is a song that features some piano-pop sounds and horns that bring soul to the track.

“I Won’t Run” is a country jukebox sort of song. The song begins with the lyrics, “I could get used to Texas, get a job, go work for your dad. He’s not a drunk. He just makes the wine look bad.” The beat in this song is slow and steady, and the steel guitar is prominent and gives the song the sort of spacey sound that has filled honky-tonks forever. On top of all of that, the track is easy to sing, especially when he sings, “I won’t break your heart, and I won’t run.”

If you want an example of Rowe’s lyrical prowess, look no further than “Honey in the Morning”. This song begins with him singing, “You said you needed space, so I gave you Montana.” It’s filled with lyrics that songwriters can aspire to.  Another bit that grabs the attention is, “There’s only 10% of me that hates that you’re a grifter, but most of me is under your spell.”

The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights shows a sonic expansion for Rowe, whose previous albums leaned more toward a minimal folk sound. Nothing is minimal about this album. This one ranges from honky-tonk songs to tracks that seem Morphine influenced them. The arrangements are richer and make an even better showcase for his ability to paint a picture with his words.

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters