Rocky Volotato | The Brag and Cuss (Barsuk)

cd_votolatoWhen I got my hands on The Brag and Cuss, I was looking for the new rock song, and I can safely say there isn't one.





Since 1999, Rocky Votolato has released four full-lengths with his band Waxwing and now, with The Brag and Cuss, six solo efforts.

The first Rocky Votolato song I heard was Waxwing's "Colour," which, despite a cheesy punk format and lyrical holes, boasted an awesome chorus highlighted by Rocky's great voice. I was then introduced to the best tracks off of Suicide Machine, the title track, and "The Light and Sound," which keep his rock roots alive and featured screams as he threatens, "If I have to crack open your skull with my fist/ I'll let the light and the sound escape."

In 2002, I was also introduced to David Dondero, and both folk-songwriters released their excellent albums South of the South and Makers, respectively, within months of each other. Both are able to translate lengthened rock songs to acoustic guitars. Votolato has a tendency to write sadder, straightforward songs, has less perk in his voice, and he leans towards harmonica rather than Dondero's trumpet.

With Makers, the rock-oriented feel was still palpable with my favorite track, "The Night's Disguise," essentially serving as a cover to "The Light and Sound." "Tennessee Train Tracks" and "Streetlights" also offered upbeat, handclap sounds featuring Votolato's slur of breathy, restrained yells reminiscent of Waxwing.

When I got my hands on The Brag and Cuss, I was looking for the new rock song, and I can safely say there isn't one. It took me a while to revisit this album, but I'm glad I did. Votolato has settled in to an alt-country routine, he is approaching 30 with two kids, and now chooses more grown up themes of "traveling companions," "drinking to kill the pain," and an overall view best described in "Lilly White" of "those days are gone now."

I encourage a few spins of this record, but I offer a fair warning that the rock elements have been mostly drained. It's the Cassadaga of Rocky's catalog; he no longer captures the "cool guy on the acoustic guitar" feel anymore. The Brag and Cuss standout is "Your Darkest Eyes," which is the album centerpiece and one of the few songs that could sneak into the heavier Suicide Machine.

"Time Is a Debt," "Before You Were Born," and "The Wrong Side of Reno" are the other good, sad songs that belong in playlists titled "Travelin' Music" and would be a good choice to accompany your next traffic jam. B- | Joseph O'Fallon

RIYL: David Dondero, Waxwing, Wilco, Elliott Smith

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