Review : Rocky Votolato - True Devotion
AbsolutepunkSix LPs into a much-heralded solo career, Rocky Votolato doesn't need to do much to make his admirers beam. That very sentiment seems to be the skeleton that shapes True Devotion, a minimalist folk record that allows his songcraft and wordplay to bubble to the surface.
"Lucky Clever Coin," opens things up with an organ and a sweetly plucked acoustic guitar, before Rocky starts doing his thing, "There's a world I wanna leave behind, Where sunset in a constant bloody winter gives the only light, and with it I hoped I would disappear." A light electric guitar and a toe-tapping breeziness signals the beginning of "Fragments," which features a hummable chorus and falsetto on the verses. The sonic textures fizzle and crackle in places giving the exercise a punchy sentiment that is both accessible and indelible.
The jangly, acoustic pop intro of "Red River," masks a deeply troubling and dark narrative that details a man drowning himself in a Montana river. From start to finish it is a flawlessly performed performance and very proof that Votolato's admirers aren't being hyperbolic when they sing his praises. With no sign of a letdown in place, Votolato marches forward with the hurried romp "Eyes Like Static, aided by some shimmering background vocals at the halfway mark; and "Sparklers," a finger-picked yarn about nostalgia and summer that has a resonance and timelessness that seems destined for both mixtapes and soundtracks....full text
PopmattersTexas-born and Seattle-raised, Rocky Votolato’s sound has never quite blended in with any particular locale. There’s something of Conor Oberst’s stark, Omaha melancholy, and a hint of Elliot Smith’s moody romanticism. But on True Devotion, his sixth solo full length release, the singer-songwriter sounds like he’s given up the journey and settled down. That might work for some, but instead of grounding his winsome folk-rock in something more solid, Votolato’s straightforward numbers just sound stalled and static. He’s gone from being anchorless to being weighed down.
A former member of the moderately successful indie-folk band, Waxwing, Votolato’s been quietly involved in the Northwest music scene for 15 years now, but he still sounds fundamentally the same. His last two full-lengths, 2006’s Makers and 2007’s The Brag and Cuss, didn’t radically alter the formula, but they were reliable, accessible folk-rock efforts. In fact, Votolato has made something of a career of being reliable – you can always rest assured that, with every new album, he’ll deliver one or two brilliant moments (like Makers’ “She Was Only In It For the Rain”), a handful of mild successes, and more filler than necessary. It’s hard to critique Votolato, though, perhaps because he treats his moody tales of broken hearts and tired feet with such continual sincerity.
Part of the problem is Votolato’s admittedly monochrome palate; it defies you to differentiate between numbers like “Lucky Clover Coin” and “What Waited for Me”. Choosing to rely instead on his own delicate vocals and solid guitar-playing, Votolato makes True Devotion often feel more like a chore than a gift. But when he varies the tempo, if only slightly, the results are fairly impressive. “Red River” for example, bears the most resemblance to a beefed-up Elliot Smith b-side, even if its lyricism owes more to the Boss (“I had a brother who was stationed up in northern hill country / Though he never really came home / We drove out east to Red River to see the high waters flow”)....full text
KexpTrue Devotion marks the 6th full-length record (out tomorrow on Barsuk) from Seattle resident and ex-WaxWing frontman Rocky Votolato. In the decade following the demise of his band Rocky has crafted some of the most beautiful and honest music to ever come out of the Emerald City. After what’s felt like a very long time away, I’m happy to report that Mr. Votolato is indeed back.
In the years following the release of his last album, The Brag and Cuss (2007) Rocky went through a widely publicized dark time, characterized by the arrival our old friend’s self-doubt, depression and anxiety. Trapped within the four walls of his mind, Votolato reportedly stopped writing and touring altogether opting instead to hole up in his apartment for months on end studying existential philosophy, physics and theology....full text
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