As his bro Cody sops a six string with The Blood Brothers, former Waxwing zinger Rocky Votolato jumps into the ring for another excruciatingly bittersweet, reflective, revelatory, expressionistic, increasingly Americana-indebted bout with his acoustic. Aside from some loose-lipped harmonica, a snippet of slide guitar, a dollop of drums, and a shaker shimmy or two, Rocky V's third album (otherwise known as Makers, or Rocky III: Mr. T's Revenge) is bare 'n' spare, leaving the troubadour, for the most part, with decent lyrics and overt earnestness to break his fall.
It's too bad; the guy sounds like a champ when he lets the flames flicker a little. Of particular note is "Where We Left Off," a lowly, lonely nod-off-er that employs a 'monica, some quickly picked 'lectric guitar, and what turn out to be the thickest, loveliest melodies found on the entire record. Why this gem is snowed under at slot #11 is deplorable, as skipping through a glut of tender-but-so-so songs to reach "Left Off" is worse than digging through a box of Cracker Jacks for the ever-elusive peanuts.
Perhaps this was a good strategy from a sales standpoint. To this reviewer, much of Makers sounds like soggy, coffeehouse filler when held up next to the luster of its highlights, which include the absolute gem specified above, the hallowed-but-hopeful "Uppers Aren't Necessary," the whispery harmonies of "She Was Only In it For the Rain," and the tenable title track. So the question is, did the powers-that-be at Barsuk – yes, indies have powers-that-be, too -- decide that the more accessible (albeit less immediate), niftier numbers such as "White Daisy Passing" should be heard, tallied, and considered first, or is this reviewer imagining things? Hmmmm. In any event, the first few tunes are somewhat pleasant, a trifle like Iron And Wine compositions and a tad like Jack Johnson's slower acoustic ditties (this comparison hurts me as much as it hurts you).
Just don't expect anything too refreshing from Makers outside of the aforementioned bright spots. Votolato has a lot to offer as a musician, but his songwriting veers into stale territory too often over the course of 12 songs, neglecting to pull itself from its many holding patterns in time for salvation. This is a common concern in the folk world, a quandary solved consistently by the greats but toiled over – often to no avail – by middle-of-the-roaders. After three solid, if unspectacular, albums, it's clear RV is a solid, unspectacular songwriter, though his core fans would likely disagree.
1. White Daisy Passing
2. Portland Is Leaving
3. The Night's Disguise
4. She Was Only In It For The Rain
5. Uppers Aren't Necessary
6. Wait Out The Days
8. Tennessee Train Tracks
10. Tinfoil Hats
11. Where We Left Off