Rocky Votolato – Suicide Medicine and The Light and Sound

Rocky VotolatoSuicide Medicine and The Light and Sound EP (Second Nature Records)

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.

4 thoughts on “Rocky Votolato – Suicide Medicine and The Light and Sound”

  1. I saw Rocky Votolato in a club right before “Suicide Medicine” came out and I was blown away – the guy has such palpable talent. The title track of “SM” made me stand silently in the audience, just weepily pondering life – it’s beautiful and horrifying and the best expression of resigned sorrow I’d heard since The Smiths’ “Asleep.” He explained it was about his wife’s father and how he committed suicide late in his life.

    This guy is great – “SM” has weak moments, but it’s a lovely record overall. I hope he gets his moment in the sun.

  2. I just saw Rocky for the first time a few nights ago; I fell in love with his music from the first time I heard the Light and Sound EP in the beginning of summer. I hope to be able to see him many times to come in the future; he was absolutely amazing. His voice may not be perfectly smooth, breaking occasionally on those high notes, but the raw power and beautiful tone make up for any problems in the delivery. And the way he plays that guitar…just incredible.

  3. Yeah, I saw this guy open for The Get Up Kids. He really tore it up, his voice nailed everyone to the floor, and for once…we were all amazed with an opening band. He really does deserve his 15 minutes of fame.

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