Somewhere in the musical landscape there is a place where a smooth-voiced, dark,
introspective songwriter meets the grunge flavor of Seattle meets an
around-the-campfire vibe. It is in this place that you will find Barsuk
recording artist Rocky Votolato. If you can imagine a cross between Elliott
Smith, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain and Neil Young, you can imagine this gifted
artist. But you don’t have to imagine when you can just pick up his latest,
Makers. This is a solid album by solid artist who somehow has been flying
under the radar for the past five years while splitting time as a solo artist
and with acclaimed emo band Waxwing.
The record opens with “White Daisy Passing,” a folky piece that somehow balances
Votolato’s Southwest upbringing with the cool of the Pacific Northwest where he
currently resides. The harmonica-laden “Portland Is Leaving,” the twangy “The
Night’s Disguise,” and the rocking “Tennessee Train Tracks” show Rocky’s
powerful and gritty vocals, and where elements of Cobain are most evident.
“Uppers Aren’t Necessary” has a Simon & Garfunkel quality about it – perhaps
because of the vocal tones, precision harmonies and phrasings, or perhaps
because it’s got a Vietnam-era feel. Or maybe still it’s because of Votolato’s
weighty lyrics: “The uppers aren't necessary/ The guilt is the coal/That
keeps the fire burning to drive out the cold /That creeps in every corner crack
and never leaves you alone /Till the lonely messengers come calling you back
Other standouts are the anthemic “Wait Out the Days;” “Goldfield,” which paints
a vivid image of a blue-collar town that someone is trying desperately to get
out of; and the emotive title track. Yes, Votolato has emo roots but his
powerful voice belies that genre.
This is Votolato’s first album on indie powerhouse Barsuk. With the label’s
backing, Rocky has the potential to rise way above his peers. Of course, there
will be purists that would prefer him to remain relatively obscure. Either way,
fans of good songs and good songwriters will find something to like here.