ROWSIE – Rowsie

Rowsie’s 2022 EP ‘Searching’ presented four tracks of solid sounding roots rock with noisier overtones. Somewhere between the solo works of Dan Baird, Boston bar room rockers Watts, the angrier end of the John Hiatt catalogue, a full blown Crazy Horse and Grant Lee Buffalo, the release’s four songs sold an enthusiastic DIY sound with relative ease.

This full length felt like a long time coming, but it does not disappoint. Working to Rowsie’s previous formula, its ten songs mix different elements of raw rock and Americana in a way that’s wholly natural, and the songwriting occasionally throws a sly humour into the mix, resulting in a collection of tracks that could’ve have been spawned at any point after the late 70s.

An instant standout, ‘Fertile Fields’ shares a bouncing bassline beneath chopping guitars, whilst swirling organs and slightly gritty vocals stoke up the obviously retro factor. In places, it sounds like Edie Brickell & New Bohemians in rock out mode, but there’s plenty in the way the vocal melodies sit against the riffs that’s straight out of the John Hiatt school of alt-country. Against a solid country rock riff, the lyric shares various farming themes to create metaphors for love, and whilst this could’ve all gone a bit Spinal Tap, there’s something endearing about the end result. With a natural blend of male and female vocals, an old style organ and a solid rhythm, its a very accessible example of the Rowsie sound in full flow. Also rather striking, ‘Willingness’ offers a raft of stop/start guitar riffs which chop their way through a razor sharp intro, offering something closer to the angry Americana from the Uncle Tupelo catalogue. As the track progresses, although the melodies become less disjointed thanks to a flowing bassline used effectively to fill space, nothing actually gets any more tuneful. By the midpoint, the distortion has been cranked, and the band explore sonic tapestries that definitely share musical parallels with Crazy Horse and Trevor & The Joneses. It’s a great example of the band’s noisier side, especially with the way a deep vocal jostles against the live sounding guitar work, but listen more closely and you’ll hear a strong melody buried within the brilliantly blusterous sound.

When you think Rowsie couldn’t get any uglier, ‘Itch’ cranks the distortion even more and throws in some wilfully atonal guitar work – akin to Neil Young’s finest solos, shared whilst bending backwards and forwards with abandon – and eventually ends up in a noisy cowpoke swamp where angry guitar work and shouty vocals provide a most unexpected, yet very welcome, throwback to Paw’s ‘Dragline’ LP. As with ‘Willingness’ this proves the mettle of the band when it comes to making a huge sound, but scratch away the distortion and you’ll discover a groove laden riff that suits the semi-growled vocals rather well. There are moments where this track feels more about the riffs than obvious hooks, but in terms of the noisiest Americana, it all works brilliantly.

Those hoping for more accessible fare get their wish, too, and ‘So I’m Told’ applies a slight Americana vibe to a brilliant rock-pop tune that sounds like a distant cousin of something from side two of U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ reworked by Richmond Fontaine. The lead vocals shift from the previously shouty to a heartfelt croon, and cleaner guitar work offsets the bass with great, shimmering tones. It’s a slow burner of a track, but has a real warmth and heart that shows off Rowsie’s melodic chops with ease, whilst ‘7:55 To Athens’ shares some subtle guitar lines set against a great pop-rock rhythm, casting Rowsie in the mould of many a 90s roots rock band. The blend of natural vocal and instantly lovable chorus hook ensures this has potential to be a fan favourite, and again, there’s a trace of John Hiatt in its optimistic melody that just works. By the time the melody really kicks in and the punchy rhythm reaches for the climax, it sounds great. You’ll find yourself wishing the band could ride the groove a little longer, but they choose instead to descend into rattling, chaotic noise, reinforcing their looser approach to performance…

Elsewhere, ‘No Time To Worry’ blends a clanging guitar and funk bassline surprisingly naturally. The music brings together both sides of Rowsie’s music almost seamlessly, and the way a slightly gruff lead vocal is offset with echoing harmonies really sells their live feel. The drums sound superb throughout, giving the number a real punch from which a rocky melody is able to grow, and even with a guitar solo that makes the ‘Itch’ lead break sound like the works of David Gilmour, it has the potential to be one of the album’s standout numbers. With ‘Hard To Be Me’ attacking like an old Stones tune run through a glam rock filter then replayed by Frank Black in a bad mood, there’s plenty more evidence that Rowsie are an Americana act who really know how to rock, but best of all, ‘Billionaire Bankers’ casts a melodic ear back to the rootsy 90s and the sounds of bands like Rob Rule and Thermadore, mixes that with the poppier edge of Jeremy Porter and throws in a scathing lyric about how the over privileged behave. In terms of capturing the band at their most accessible, it’s a genuine hit, and its fluid basslines and chopping guitars supply some of Rowsie’s finest sounds this time out.

Following a string of singles and a couple of EP’s this full length from Rowsie makes good on a lot of their earlier promise. They bring a world of gritty rock to the table pretty much throughout, but as before, there are traces of rootsy music, a pinch of blues and a whole world of sass to create a world of welcome variety. Most importantly, their homespun gritty riffs are coupled with a few great hooks that really suit their unashamedly old school sound. It’s not a record that tries to be too smart – Rowsie seem to know, instinctively, that their grubby musical chops speak for themselves without too many gimmicks – but it’s more than satisfying in its own rough ‘n’ ready way. It’s sometimes more about aggression than easy accessibility – at least from a roots rock and Americana perspective – but therein lies most of the charm. For those who enjoyed the earlier EPs, this album – ugly as it can be in places – is a must hear.

November 2023