Rocky Votolato: True Devotion

RIYL: Steve Earle, Rogue Wave, Damien Rice

When you’re at the bottom of a well, looking up, your surroundings are likely to be cold, damp, dreary and bleak. As Seattle-based singer/songwriter Rocky Votolato battled his own demons, namely depression and near suicide, that’s probably how things felt to him at the time. But in pulling himself from that proverbial well, he found writing songs to be therapeutic, and in the process he’s delivered to us some of his finest material yet. True Devotion is trademark Votolato vocally and melodically, but this effort is a more stripped-down record, almost solely acoustic. It’s a set of songs that have Votolato brimming with hope while at the same time dealing with his issues head on – and the best part is that he has a way of using his quirky melodies and chord structures to create a mood that reflects both his lyrics and his rainy day Seattle surroundings. He also has the vocal tone to stand up to an acoustic album. Rocky is good at belting it out and rocking a bit as he does on “Red River,” but he really shines on the simply arranged, darker material, the best of which are “Lucky Clover Coin” and “What Waited for Me.” (Barsuk 2010)

Rocky Votolato MySpace Page


Allison Moorer: Crows

RIYL: Emmylou Harris, Linda Rondstadt, Tift Merritt

Weaving her way through the series of hard-luck stories that illuminate Crows – her much-anticipated follow-up to last year’s critically acclaimed Mockingbird – Allison Moorer cries foul on any number of subjects, among them broken hearts, leaving lovers and all manner of ills in general. Apparently life for Mrs. Steve Earle is no bed of roses, and with song titles like “Just Another Fool,” “The Broken Girl,” “Should I Be Concerned,” “When You Wake Up Feeling Bad” and “Sorrow (Don’t Come Around),” it’s clear she has numerous thoughts that need venting.


Then again, Moorer’s music rarely dwells on optimism. Over the course of her eight albums, Moorer’s reflected a worrisome perspective, belabored by ongoing remorse, disappointment and despair, as well as an ache and a yearning that often keeps her focus somewhat removed. Crows essentially offers more of the same, from the troubled rumblings of “Abalone Sky” and the plaintive repose of “Easy in the Summertime” to the acrimonious dismissal of “Sorrow (Don’t Come Around)” and the scorching break-up ballad “Still This Side of Gone.” The mournful sentiments create an air of unrelenting sadness, yet one that still allows the beautiful melodies to shine through. Suffice it to say, those who were smitten by Mockingbird will find Crows a similar bird of a feather. (Ryko 2010)

Allison Moorer MySpace page


Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons: Death Won’t Send a Letter

RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Greg Laswell

The latest contender for the role of heartland hero, Cory Chisel offers up a debut album that combines a bit of Nebraska-era Springsteen with a hint of tarnished roots rocker Steve Earle. Not surprisingly then, Death Won’t Send a Letter reflects a sound as dark as its title implies, a blend of turgid rhythms and moody, contemplative deliberation. Clearly, Chisel’s at his best when he’s conveying brooding, angst-driven efforts like “Born Again” and “Longer Time at Sea,” both of which provide prime opportunity for him to revel in an insurgent attitude. Still, Chisel’s troubled tomes aren’t ongoing throughout; the quirky rhythms that underscore “Angel of Mine” and “Curious Thing” find the band occasionally flirting with techno territory, although clearly that’s not their main turf.

In truth, Chisel’s main strength is in his material, which shifts sharply from the forlorn ballad “Tennessee” and the mellow, autumnal “Calm Down” to the pounding and ponderous “What Do You Need.” The band even tosses in a hint of U2-like melodrama via the stunningly anthemic “My Heart Will Be There.” Though still sorting out their direction, this first attempt finds the Wandering Sons getting a good start to their journey. (Black Seal 2009)

Cory Chisel MySpace page
Click to buy Death Won’t Send a Letter


Justin Townes Earle: Midnight at the Movies

Here’s something to make you feel older than dirt, Steve Earle fans: Not only is Earle’s son a grown-up singer/songwriter in his own right, but he’s releasing his second album on March 3 – and he already sounds as weary and worldly wise as his old man did on 1996’s I Feel Alright. But don’t look to the elder Earle’s music for points of reference when listening to Midnight at the Movies – like his old man, Justin Townes Earle doesn’t boast a classically strong set of pipes, but his voice is clearer and his songs generally better-kempt than his dad’s, wobbling just a little more gracefully down the line between rock and country. What the album sounds a lot like, actually, is the Replacements’ All Shook Down, only with slightly more consistent songs – a similarity brought into relief by Earle’s sleepy cover of the ‘Mats classic “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Earle also kinda-sorta covers the standard “John Henry” here, but for the most part, these songs are self-penned, and they stand up to the best that AAA/alt-country has to offer. Never mind the sophomore jinx – Earle sounds like he’s been at this forever, and might have enough stories in his guitar case to keep on rolling for a lifetime. If you’re a fan of the genre, Midnight at the Movies is not to be missed. (Bloodshot 2009)

Justin Townes Earle MySpace page


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