Album Review: Sean Rowe’s “The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights”

TROY – Sean Rowe, with his latest release, The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights, crafted an album steeped in classic Americana sounds while blending his own unique style. All of the things that define a Rowe record are there –  the rumbling voice that could crush stone on one track and spread like butter on the next, thought provoking lyrics, and a distinctive acoustic guitar style – but that’s not all. With all of these songs, a steady and deliberate hand was clearly used when developing the tunes’ instrumentation and arrangements.

For example, a very eerie, and subtly warbling synthesizer opens the record on the song “What Are We Now.” As it quiets down, a plaintive acoustic guitar begins and Rowe starts singing. There is an effective use of instrumentation used on this track, as well as throughout the album, that adds to the listening experience, such as the pedal steel. In a higher register that I’m not used to hearing, Rowe pleads, “What are we doing, baby? What are we now?” during the chorus, which serves well against the backdrop of painfully nostalgic verses. The long instrumental fadeout breaks way to “To Make it Real,” in which more of this higher register is heard.

The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights, album cover

Though it is far more physically engaging than the latter – I found myself moving along to the entire song – the provocative nature of the album’s lyrics continued to grow. My favorite lyric in this song is, “The moment’s gone/Good thing I kept it/It’s on my phone/I got this captured here forevermore/But, I won’t see it again.” Damnit, if many of us can’t relate to that lyric. Also worth noting is the fact that the album name comes from a lyric in this song. A lyric that sounds almost contradictory in nature, yet makes perfect sense is one of the things I really enjoy about this record and Rowe’s writing in general. Another example of such a lyric is in the next track, “Little Death,” especially the line in the chorus: “a little death it doesn’t kill us, after all.”

Track four, “I Won’t Run,” features a duet with Rowe. It’s nice to hear such a distinctive voice being paired with another, airier one. It adds a certain softness to the record that helps the album move along. “Honey in the Morning,” track five, consists of that deep growling voice for which I am familiar, as well as more of that nice higher register. A rollicking tune through and through, I found myself chuckling at some of the tongue-in-cheek lyrics whose only chance of being heartfelt is if Rowe experienced these moments; or something comparable at the very least. One such example is in the lyric “You said you needed space/So, I gave you Montana.” We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

It can’t be mentioned enough, at least to this listener, how much Rowe explored his voice on this record. There are two great songs to demonstrate this fact: “Married to the Lord” (track six) and “Tornado Head” (track nine). The latter tune really features Rowe’s bass register. A lot has been said of his voice, but we can’t overlook the instrumentation of the tunes. To really start digging into the weeds of this aspect of the album, I highly suggest focusing on “Gabriel” and “Squid Tattoo,” tracks seven and eight, respectively. The upright bass, both bowed and plucked, is a brilliant addition to “Gabriel,” and the trumpets on “Squid Tattoo” make a fun change of pace.

The last two songs on the record, “Rabbit Hole” and “Toast” are opposite in terms of energy level, but serve great as closers when examining the lyrics together. In “Rabbit Hole” we hear Rowe frenetically sing “Whoa, I looked everywhere/You sent me down the rabbit hole/Whoa, I looked everywhere/But I only got his foot/Then I let him go,” while in “Toast,” he sings “We’re cooked, we’re toast/Goodbye, our clothes/So warm, down south/I kiss your mouth.” The change in energy flows great, as well. It is a great example of songwriting when an artist can connect the opener with the closer, and Rowe pulls this off extremely well by bringing several strikingly similar musical motifs back into the fray with melody and rhythm in the closing track. There are several ideas in these contexts that are reminiscent of “What Are We Now.”

When an artist or band releases a song or album that causes someone to listen to it on repeat upon hearing it, that’s an amazing sign of creating something fantastic. Let me assure you; I’ve probably listened to this album at least five damned times by now, and I’ve only known of the record for two days. Imagine how many times I’ll end up listening to it by the end of the year! Check out the album for yourself by clicking on the link below!


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