For Canadians listening to the new Rocky Votolato record, the first reference point that springs to mind is the Weakerthans. The Winnipeg band is there in Votolato’s loud/quiet songwriting, punk-informed folk rock that appeals to mature adults, a voice that’s strong but with fragility, hugely vivid lyrics. Votolato lacks that band’s political/socially conscious edge, and he’s a great deal more intense.
That high-energy intensity is the Seattle-based singer/songwriter’s biggest strength, especially on the title track, whose passion and conviction grow and grow without sliding into histrionics. Votolato is now eight studio albums in, and this one was produced by ex-Death Cab for Cutie member Chris Walla, so the songcraft and production are high-quality and refined from start to finish.
Plenty of the 11 songs focus on bleak experiences, but things lighten up at regular intervals, like on the driving, upbeat White-Knuckles, with its heart-tugging melodies, charging power chords and cathartic sky-busting bigness.
A perfect balancing act.
Top track: White-Knuckles
Rocky Votolato plays Lee’s Palace on Friday (July 17).