Plying their trade in London and South East England, roots rock band Rowsie spent a long time perfecting their direct musical approach and a core sound. In their case, “perfecting” doesn’t necessarily mean “perfect”, as Rowsie often revel in clinging onto a ragged musical heart. Armed with overdriven guitars that take influence from the noisier aspects of Uncle Tupelo, Grant Lee Buffalo and Crazy Horse and mixing that with a melodic streak that blends roots rock with folk and pop, it creates a full blooded very natural experience. On their ‘Searching’ EP (released in June 2022), they finally make good on the sounds and influences that peppered their earlier single releases.
Housed in artwork that pays tribute to Black Flag, you would expect Rowsie to have a rougher side and that really comes through lyrically on the brilliant ‘Gaslight’. Subtle as a brick in terms of social commentary, it was influenced directly by the manipulation and lies spread during the time of the Trump presidency and final riot, and as such, conveys a pleasingly vitriolic tone that suits Richard Rothenberg’s shoutier voice. For those not always keen on lyrical concerns, though, it presents a world of music that’s among Rowsie’s most entertaining to date. From its opening strains of soft, finger picked guitar, it grows into a roots rock strum and then further into something that sounds like The Replacements colliding with John Fogerty. This allows for an easy coolness to be set in place in record time. However, after moving through the verse where gruff vocals are augmented by a subtle harmony and into a chorus where distorted punk ‘n’ roll guitars are joined by a shouted refrain, Rowsie really come into their own. The raw production really brings out the best in the live sounding guitars, and the way the loud vocal distorts against a taut riff really hammers home the band’s rockier chops. By the time the first lead break pierces through – one part Yo La Tengo, one part Crazy Horse – the band really step up a gear, which allows the last chorus and angry guitar to hammer the point home. Not content with leaving things there, a massive coda brings something even better, when Crazy Horse inspired guitar work – obviously caring not for subtlety – takes everything to glory, making this the EP’s highlight.
The rest of the release has a more melodic feel, but never loses sight of the band’s ragged edge. ‘Love So Clear’ blends a hard drum sound with a brilliant semi-acoustic riff, immediately calling to mind the classic era of John Mellencamp. The rigid but natural tune provides a great backdrop for vocal harmonies to shine throughout. Like their music, Rowsie’s approach to a harmony is rather natural; Richard’s deep tones occasionally call back to Jakob Dylan and classic Wallflowers recordings, while the lighter sounds, courtesy of Holly Henderson, are more from the Lone Justice mould, but together, their natural sounds blend. As with all the best Rosie tunes, a slightly distorted electric guitar fills a lot of space with solos that value presence over perfection, but for lovers of tough sounding roots rock – particularly stuff with a very 90s inflection – this is a must-hear.
‘Searching For A Home’ presents ringing guitar sounds, chunky riffs and a solid groove invoking bits of the British pub rock scene of the 70s, but gives a predictable sound a lift via a militaristic drum sound, which shows Rowsie in a slightly different vein once again. Very quickly, there’s a feeling that it might be a solid track, and those suspicions are certainly confirmed when the chorus hits and male/female harmonies come together on a John Hiatt-esque hook. Factor in a lead guitar break with a superb, natural tone and a later return for the clean ringing sounds into a jubilant climax, and it’s very much Rowsie working within a timeless roots rock format. The closing ‘Legs of Sand’ shifts the focus with something bass led, where a blues/jazz core adds an extra flourish to the expected sounds. In this stripped back scenario, Rothenberg taps into a more tuneful performance, offering his strongest vocal this time out, but that’s soon outshone by a rising guitar tone and more Neil Young inspired soloing, and a harmony driven climax really captures their world of vocal harmonies and noisy guitars in the most effortless way possible. As with the other tracks, Rowsie don’t reach for anything new here, but it’s obvious they’re great at what they do.
There’s plenty within this EP that leans towards the timeless. It’s impossible to tell whether it stems from the pub rock boom of the late 70s, the blue collar sounds of the 90s or the present day. Fans of John Hiatt, Tom Robinson, Nato Coles and Nat Freedberg should definitely investigate, and for those always on the lookout for a guitar driven, unfussy slice of roots rock it’ll definitely hit the mark. With these four songs Rowsie stir the emotions in a very natural way, leaving behind something that feels as if it’ll sound even better over time.