Slide guitar and harmonica are the dusky super duo in country and folk rock, melding like beer and chips, steak and potatoes, or cheese and crackers. A band could be composed of a troupe of retarded turtles, but if there’s slide guitar and harmonica, you can’t help but tap your toes. Seattle folkster Rocky Votolato incorporates plenty of both on his second record with Barsuk, The Brag & Cuss. The singer-songwriter melds a warm retro approach with an organic vibe to create a record that is as comforting as a crackling campfire.
Postcard from Kentucky [mp3]
The “singer-songwriter” became increasingly popular in the ‘70s with influential folks like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Jim Croce. Their success derived from their ability to mix the heartsick troubadour with the gritty bar singer through well-constructed and widely-appealing songcraft. Today, the singer-songwriter usually means a crooning dingbat sitting behind a piano cranking out tunes that seem tailor-made for the “Laguna Beach” or “Real World” crowd. The main problem with the modern incarnation of the singer-songwriter is a flippant narcissism and emphasis on reach rather than roots. Votolato thankfully digs deep into his core to pull forth imagery and organic ribbons of sound that construct his particular brand of folk country. He seems to recreate a lost epoch in country that has since been bulldozed over for the idiot NASCAR sheen of Kenny Chesney.
Votolato’s songs won’t be on whatever equivalent there is of jukeboxes 40 years from now, but the man creates some solid highway music. His are the kind of tunes you want on your stereo cruising through scrub deserts on your way to L.A., breathing in the ghosts of the Navajo and Hunter Thompson. There’s a mix of Dylan, the Eagles, and acoustic stoner bands like Dispatch in Votolato’s The Brag & Cuss. “Before You Were Born” cruises down the road of retrospection like an old drop-top with its moonshine jug bass and high-tempo acoustic jitters. “Your Darkest Eyes” evokes saloon ghosts and women gone by with its solitary harmonica. “Whisky Straight” sounds like a Texas version of Flogging Molly’s “The Son Never Shines” with its emotional fission and lofty refrains.
Votolato sticks with his element, the image of desert sunsets and the dream of the West, and he delivers enough. None of the songs stick to the mind or soul, but The Brag & Cuss is a tight experience disc and companion on the journey into the literal or mental highway to the promised land.