The Ember and the Afterglow was an outstanding, musically diverse piece of work that functioned much like a collection of short stories, offering many narrative voices and quite different experiences.
Rowe's new album, The Last Day of Winter, is a completely different affair. Still diverse, nevertheless it does not have the same elements of darkness that could be found on Ember. Instead, it's a mostly upbeat affair that showcases something that didn't exactly disappear on Ember but which didn't stand out as much: Rowe's voice. On Ember Rowe was the storyteller and his voice was used in service to the stories. On The Last Day of Winter Rowe's voice is a real feature, and it deserves to be. He has a beautiful tone and it wouldn't really matter what he was singing, it's all worth listening to.
For this album Rowe has worked with The Stillsons as his band, and the differences in style are obvious: previously Rowe's sound was lean (double bass, drums and guitar) yet muscular, and it suited the songs he was crafting, just as the different instruments and backing vocals brought by The Stillsons suit these new songs. There are some traditional country sounds here - as well as the odd '70s rock note - that are brought to life by piano and fiddle. One sound is constant, though: anyone who has seen Rowe plays live would know that he's one of the best slide guitarists to be found.
I don't tend to write about individual songs in album reviews, as the name of a song means nothing to someone who hasn't heard an album yet. And if you have heard the album I may love a song that you may not, which means we're already fighting. I prefer to write about the feeling of an album because what most people take away from music is an experience that is emotional and visceral before it's intellectual. If an album makes me feel something positive - if I'm intrigued, if I'm moved, if I've been entertained - then that's worth telling people about. So it's worth telling people about Jed Rowe's The Last Day of Winter. It's also worth seeing him live, just in case he appears in a town near you.
The Last Day of Winter is out now through Mountain King Music/WJO.