Rocky Votolato is the kind of artist whose progression can be easily traced. His early singer/songwriter work relied mainly on his guitar and his soft voice, he moved into more passionate, energetic version of that on Suicide Medicine, and then into alt country-tinged rock on 2006's Makers. On his fifth full-length, The Brag & Cuss, and second with Barsuk, Votolato digs even deeper into his Texan roots, bringing in a B-3 organ and banjo alongside the harmonica and assortment of guitars he had on the previous album. Still, even with the band, what comes through most clearly is Votolato's voice, which is better than ever here, rough and emotive, honest to a fault. "Stare through the beers and years and the bags and bruises fade/...Beaming through all the brag and cuss, promising the fall," he sings in "The Old Holland," his scratchy vibrato especially audible as he holds "brag," wise with whiskey and years on the road. No, Votolato's not that old, not some grizzled veteran, but his lyrics hold a kind of sincerity and acute observation that beget images of a worn but not weary, man, a man who's seen enough by now to know something of the world. "You say, 'shut up, you're crazy, you can't go back in time,'" he says in "Postcards from Kentucky" over picked strings and soft drums, fitting the syllables of his lines in expertly and adeptly, while "Before Your Were Born" shows Votolato's understanding of love's age-old quality. But despite the individual strength of the songs -- "Lily White"'s full chorus, the nicely measured "Whiskey Straight," the country shuffle of "The Wrong Side of Reno" -- The Brag & Cuss finds its true power as an entity, in its ability to tell a story of loss and love and gravel and home, subtle but still affecting, simple but definitely not hushed. It's a record that's able to reach back while still looking forward, mature and confident but still very human, finding, in this, a spot of its very own.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown