Rocky Votolato - The Brag and Cuss (Cover Artwork)

Rocky Votolato

The Brag and Cuss (2007)


Rocky Votolato is an artist who is not only consistent, but is consistently good. On his previous releases, Votolato has brought forth to the listener rustic, poetic verses layered upon gorgeous, sparking guitar work with simple drum and harmonica backing. The Brag and Cuss carries on this proud tradition, but adds banjo, organ and slide guitar in healthier doses. As listeners have come to expect from his previous records, the record is layered and mixed as close to perfect as possible, with the various instruments and singing weaving together a rich, vibrant texture of sound that captures the blend of folk and alt-country that Votolato has made all his own. One of the strengths of the album is that very few of the songs really run together, and use the abovementioned instruments in varied enough combinations and roles to eliminate any redundancy, and at the same time creating a wide range of sonic approaches to the emotional depth of Votolato's lyrical work.

The album starts off with four strong songs. "Lilly White" sees Votolato treading on familiar ground, with sounds that were very prevalent across Makers. "Postcard from Kentucky" is a brilliant and melancholy banjo-driven vehicle that delivers some of the best lyrical work on the album. "Before You Were Born" is by far the bounciest and upbeat song on the album, blending a "Upper's Aren't Necessary" guitar lead with a quick snare-bass drum beat to make one fun love song that also is one of two that features dual male/female vocals. "Wrong Side of Reno," where apparently Rocky's toughest friends are from, is a simple guitar and harmonica vehicle that yet again harkens to Makers. Next come "Red Dragon Wishes" and "The Blue Rose," which mark what would be the lull before the power of the next five songs, with simplistic guitar approaches that mark the only two songs back-to-back on the album that sound alike. However, "Red Dragon Wishes" features some of Votolato's most heartfelt vocal effort.

For me, the best part of the album's real gold starts with track 7, "Your Darkest Eyes," which is great and Willie Nelson-esque with a great piano accompaniment to Votolato's guitar- and drum-driven love song. "Time Is a Debt" is probably the second fastest song after "Before You Were Born," but is much less lighthearted in its lyrical content. The song also marks one of only one of four songs that are driven by electric, not acoustic guitar (the others being "Lilly White," "Red Dragon Wishes" and "The Old Holland"). "Whiskey Straight" showcases Votolato's great writing talents with lines along with a simple acoustic guitar approach that bears striking resemblance to "Makers," but with a wonderful accordion background track. The pre-finale is "The Old Holland," which happens to actually contain lyrics including the album's title. Driven by mellow electric riffing that suitably matches the remorseful lyrics and wrenching vocals perfectly, the song also showcases one of the only real guitar solos found on the album. Finally, the album closes with "Silver Trees," which stands out as a great closer just like "Makers," but with a little bit more umph to it. The song is comprised of a shimmering guitar lead, perfectly angelic harmonica fills and beautiful male/female vocals that perfectly complement some of the best lyrical work Votolato has ever committed to record. Although simple like "Makers," it delivers a wonderful and emotional close to the album.

The Brag and Cuss, though not a true departure for Votolato, is really an example of an artist who has honed his skills to a razor-sharp edge. The album's graceful blend of the traditional heart of modern country and folk, with the beautiful lyrical and vocal work of Votolato, produces a consistently excellent album not only from song to song, but from listen to listen that, like the whiskey Votolato mentions at length, gets better with each passing day.