Rocky Votolato

Suicide Medicine

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Following a pair of albums released in 2002 (his own Burning My Travels Clean and Waxwing's Nobody Can Take What Everybody Owns), Seattle's Rocky Votolato returned with his third full-length. It may be the efforts of producer/Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, or the musicians heard on this recording (including Walla, Red Stars Theory's Seth Warren, and Seldom's Casey Foubert), but Suicide Medicine has a distinctive sound that sets it apart from Votolato's earlier solo work and his albums as a member of Waxwing. It also may be the album that helps to define Votolato's own sound, echoing the work he's already done while embracing some bolder stylistic choices. There's no shortage of uptempo rock songs here -- the title track and "Every Red Cent" both come to mind -- but the overall mood is darker than the bittersweet, hopeful songs heard on Burning My Travels Clean. Lyrically, "Automatic Rifle" and "Prison Is Private Property" both take Votolato into political territory. In "The Light and the Sound," he sings about transcendence in one verse and violent frustrations in another; the effect is jarring. In other songs, Votolato offers an unromanticized view of the life of a touring musician. "Montana" and "Mix Tapes/Cellmates" both touch on the uncertainties, economic and otherwise, that come from a life on the road. Votolato's rich, level voice, sometimes reminiscent of Paul Westerberg, allows him to refer to himself as "a hard-working guitar pickin' man" without a trace of irony -- and make it work. Warren's Rhodes adds a twilight warmth to "The Light and the Sound" while contrasting nicely with Votolato's strummed guitar. Harmonica is used effectively on "Alabaster" and "Mix Tapes/Cellmates," evoking Votolato's folk and country influences. Ultimately, though, this album touches on a number of genres without being easily classified in any. It's an honest, straightforward album with a man and a guitar at its heart.

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