Rocky Votolato is a man cloaked in the kind of duality found only in nature and lore. His voice is unpolished but resistant, his music can be soft as wax, while also tough and sturdy like a cedar rooted to a mountainside. His voice too, like fresh timber, occasionally oozes sap, but not too much. Inside Rocky, as in a cedar’s needled branches, are flitting birds with insulating feathers and powerful wings: enough to withstand a cold season, and strong enough to return every New Year.
Votolato is known for his duality: he performs with the rock group Waxwing (not to be confused with Detroit’s the Waxwings -ed.), and also solo acoustic. Seth Warren (Red Stars Theory), Casey Fobert (Pedro the Lion) and mixer/engineer Chris Walla provide assistance on his latest solo efforts, but in all his endeavors, Rocky is unmistakably the fearless leader—even amidst his solo work’s nakedness and Waxwing’s electrification.
Suicide Medicine and The Light and Sound EP reflect the rippling aspects of humanity in songs about love, murder, and warm blood, and his voice’s liquidity provides a tranquil feeling, but also evokes a hidden central current.
On these two cds (The EP was released on May 20, 2003, and the LP was released September 16) the songs alternate and blend like seasons. Votolato makes it truly possible to get the uncommon—and best—of both worlds without seeming overdone: he evokes the pain of cold as well as spring’s rejuvenation, and he experiments on all levels: within the album, within the song, within the verse. Truly, he and his band have found a way to successfully move from knuckle-scraping guitar chords to delicate fingerpicking while maintaining a smooth and intuitive, yet complicated sound.
Votolato is a self-proclaimed “hardworkin’ guitar pickin’ man” who belts ’em out above his drummer’s brushes and in perfect harmony with the backup vocals. On Suicide Medicine‘s “Death – Right,” he sings, “Inaction acts as a blade across the throat.” And as he plucks his way though cavernous orchestration, it becomes evident that Votolato needs no guide: he chooses his pains and pleasures, and balances them like nature’s blind justice.
The Light and Sound EP complements Suicide Medicine in many ways, and both discs are connected like tree and earth. In A Discourse on Killing, Votolato sings, “So I want to hit somebody / With a baseball bat / Break his fucking knees / And take pleasure in it / And I know it is not right.” Lyrics like these help prove that Votolato is a modern songwriter set in old ways, and his words echo the dark traditions found in “Delia’s Gone” and “Little Sadie.” Votolato, just like the old folk singers, breathes love, murder, and sometimes politics.
These are Votolato’s strongest releases to date. They should not be considered perfect or necessarily accommodating, but his relationship with unsettling traditional music both exhibits and foreshadows a positive natural growth. This is to his benefit, as he must realize, because he leaves room for future challenges.