On 2007’s Brag & Cuss, singer/songwriter Rocky Votolato wrote Americana songs about the loneliness of clubs, the road, empty conversations, and the inherent paradoxes in his life. The album proved a signpost to a period of depression where he quit writing altogether and went into seclusion. A year later, he tried to find his way out; he began looking at his demons, and reading and investigating philosophy, spiritual, and esoteric thought. Eventually, his depression relented enough that he could begin writing the songs that became True Devotion; his finest collection. Produced with Casey Foubert, this is a set of profoundly honest, lyrical, predominantly acoustic tunes that reflect on his condition, the origins of its cause, and find a path to acceptance. On “Red River,” accompanied by a percussive acoustic and a small trap kit, he sings: “This is what life feels like underground . . . I’ve been searching for the waves to carry us home. . . .” “Sparklers,” with its gorgeous fingerpicking, is a small song with the large implications of impermanence. His nearly whispered refrain is: “Everything’s right, everything’s wrong/Sparklers only burn for so long . . . “ and in the bridge: “I’m a pendulum that swings/trapped into the disappearing of the setting sun, the moonlight at dawn/That book of matches burning its own flesh.” A solitary guitar and harmonica introduce “Instrument,” where he expresses desire by negation: “I don’t want this tensile glory/or empty praise that I can’t carry/I want no more of this delusion/I only want to come back home to you.” This is a love song, but it’s as much a spiritual one as an earthly one. Other songs, such as “What Waited for Me,” “Sun Devil,” and “Please Don’t Be Angry” accept personal responsibility in familial and ultimately spiritual ways and try to make amends. This is a singular album in Votolato's career. It’s deep, but readily accessible; full of a sadness that provokes transformation rather than consuming its own shadow. Its simplicity and stark reflections offer a portrait of the artist as a grown man; living in the present, integrating the brokenness and contradictions into a wholeness. True Devotion is beautifully constructed, performed, and sequenced. Its songs are crafted expertly and articulated in a manner that haunts, whispers, and coaxes the listener to engage with it completely, over and again.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek