Burning My Travels Clean
The first time I saw Rocky Votolato was not when he was leading his post-punk band Waxwing, but when he performed a solo opener for Seattle indie-folk musician Damien Jurado. Jurado had previously referred to Votolato in an interview as — I’m paraphrasing heavily here — a tough guy character with an intensely vulnerable side that emerges whenever he picks up an acoustic guitar. He was right on both counts. Votolato looks the part of his bad-boy forename, but I believe he actually moved some people to tears that night.
Burning My Travels Clean is Votolato’s first proper full-length, compensating for the spotty reception of his obscure self-titled debut, later followed by a joint four-song EP with Red Stars Theory violinist Seth Warren, as well as the CD EP, A Brief History, released about one year ago. The others showed promise; but except for an excellent rendition of “Plastic Jesus,” the latter of these failed to capture poignancy of his live set. That shortcoming might be emended this time around.
More melodic and structured than any of its predecessors, Burning My Travels Clean peaks in its center: “With Eyes Still Seeing,” one of Votolato’s more resolutely hopeful tunes, and the country ballad “Don’t Walk Out on Me.” Rose Thomas, formerly the vocalist for Velour 1000 and a standout on Damien Jurado’s LP Ghost Of David, is a welcome vocal complement to Votolato’s light rasp on “Like Silver.”
This is billed as his most uplifting album to date. Well, sort of. While jaded lines such as “We are all the authors of our own destruction” (“Like A Mother”), and “The same nervousness that makes me good at what I do/Is my enemy today and will be my whole life through” (“Swallowing Swords”) still appear, now they have to compete with apologies, declarations of enduring love, and pleas for trust — rather uncharacteristic for this particular songwriter. In spite of these slight attitude changes, Burning My Travels Clean is a coherent, thoughtful album, and well worth an extended listen.