New York songwriter's baritone is his best instrument

Even if Sean Rowe could barely string a sentence together, the singer/songwriter's baritone would carry him far. Fortunately the folk musician, who calls Troy, New York home, is a strong enough writer that he doesn't have to rely solely on his powerful voice. He's also smart enough to realize that his songs often sound best with a stark backdrop of little more than acoustic guitar.

Rowe recorded his most recent album, New Lore, at Sam Phillips' renowned Memphis studio and managed to channel some of that space's soul. His new batch of songs also embraces a sentimentality that recalls old-school crooners like Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury. Parents should exercise caution when listening to “I'll Follow Your Trail” in public. “I was there when you took your first step into a world that was wide as the sky / I held your belly there against my chest, I was there when you needed to cry,” he sings in a tearjerker of a love song to his children.

The doo-wop backup singers on “Newton's Cradle,” “Promise of You” and other New Lore tracks sometimes distract from a voice that can fill a song on its own just fine, but the variety of styles also keeps things from getting too predictable. (Safe bet)