Earthy and ethereal, Rowe and Roohan wow at Hall
TROY — Two exceptional local singers filled the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday: the earthy, roof-rattling Sean Rowe and the heavenly, ethereal Maryleigh Roohan.
“There are songs in the trees” — first words to boom through Rowe’s lumberjack beard, in his opening number “Signs” — set the stage perfectly. Saturday’s show benefited the Rensselaer Land Trust, which protects watersheds, open space and habitats. An experienced forager who once spent 24 days in the woods alone, Rowe sang Saturday as both a practical naturalist and a savvy song craftsman and interpreter whose musical education began in Troy.
Now living in Saratoga Springs but touring as a national recording artist, Rowe sang songs from “Magic” (2009) and “The Salesman and The Shark” (2013), and he introduced new songs from “Spiritual Leather,” due in September. If Rowe’s vast voice comes as a startling surprise — yes, he probably could sing the phone book impressively — his singing would be empty without worthy songs. Rowe doesn’t write any other kind. He sang the new “The Game” right after “Signs,” the fresh tune earning its welcome with wordless refrains. Then, back to “Salesman” with “Joe’s Cult:” Deeply spiritual, Rowe is suspicious of religions.
Rowe’s voice packs such a punch that his guitar playing seems under-rated. Strumming or finger picking, he was unconventional but always effective, coaxing chords, mostly, from his heavily taped (repairs? decorations?) acoustic six-string. But in “Joe’s Cult,” he clipped a banknote to the strings with a pen for a junkyard Marc Ribot buzz that accentuated Rowe’s periodic songwriting resemblance to Tom Waits. He next uncorked the first of few covers: Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” nailing its folkie wistfulness.
“Wrong Side of the Bed” from “Magic” featured junkyard guitar, its bluesy bounce earning a big ovation that maybe encouraged him to stay with the blues in Willie Dixon’s classic “Spoonful,” also with modified guitar. At the end, his own new “Mad Man” at a brisk rocking pace set the stage for Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” with a long guitar break. The encore worked that same cover-then-original pattern: the Appalachian tragedy “Long Black Veil” and his own heritage-minded “Leave Something Behind.”
Roohan confessed to major nerves early on, but the young-looking singer-songwriter performed with grown-up maturity and ease as her confidence grew. Picking an aqua electric guitar, Roohan, like Rowe, song both album tracks and newer tunes.
Her opener about friends misunderstanding her didn’t even have a title when she sang it: She decided in the lobby while signing (vinyl!) copies of her album that it’s “My Friends.”
“My Surrender” and “Baby You Should Know,” both from “Skin and Bone,” sparkled in sparse solo readings on Saturday; while “Foolish Girl” finished strong with a warm declaration of devotion.