Earthy alt-folk bard Sean Rowe returns with New Lore, his fourth outing for the Anti- label. With his gently fingerpicked guitar and resounding baritone voice, Rowe's records have typically felt like introspective soul journeys whose emotional scales tip subtly with varying degrees of darkness and light. His previous record, 2014's eclectic Madman, showed a somewhat sunnier side of the upstate New Yorker's personality and introduced some colorful new tones to his sound. Recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips' legendary studio, New Lore continues some of that sonic exploration while offering what may be some of Rowe's most heartfelt songwriting to date. The change of scenery to one of America's musical heartlands has a pronounced effect, particularly on tracks like "Promise of You," a redemptive gospel-inspired piano ballad, and the more R&B-oriented "Newton's Cradle," with its staccato string enhancements and funky electric piano. Elsewhere Rowe tries his hand at classic outlaw country on "It's Not Hard to Say Goodbye," which comes off like a hybrid of Waylon Jennings and Leonard Cohen, yet suits his own distinctive voice better than almost anything on the album. Even as he tries on his variety of styles, the common thread stitching New Lore together is one of poignant sentimentality, which is probably best evidenced on "I'll Follow Your Trail,' an unabashedly tender tale of parenthood. Another warm ballad along those lines is "I Can't Make a Living from Holding You," painting the family man as the reluctant and weary traveler. Between his sincerity and the warmly captured performances, Rowe has added another fine record to his growing canon.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger