Rocky Votolato spent his childhood in a small town called Frost (population 647), 100 miles south of Dallas. Growing up with a biker father on a horse ranch, Votolato had an unconventional upbringing, soundtracked by Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Johnny Cash. After relocating to Seattle, Votolato spent his high school years discovering the underground punk/indie scene. Inspired by bands like Fugazi, he and his brother Cody (a founding member of The Blood Brothers) formed a punk band called Waxwing, which gained a devoted following. Still wanting to make music that echoed the life he’d left behind in Texas, Rocky recorded four accomplished solo albums that increasingly departed from modern aesthetic terrain and explored the sonic spaces of the music of his youth.
The Brag & Cuss, Votolato’s fifth, marks a major turning point in his career. After releasing the acclaimed Makers in 2006, Votolato set off on multiple (“rough-assed” as he recalls) national tours in support of the record. It was during these long stretches on the road, away from his family (Votolato, 29, is the father of two children) that sketches for the songs on The Brag & Cuss first came together. After his final US run (with Lucero and William Elliott Whitmore) Votolato arrived back in Seattle again with a batch of completed songs.
Rocky got together with co-producer Casey Foubert and together they charted out the record. They decided that to best capture the spirit of the new material they needed a full band. The next day a few friends came over to Foubert’s studio and they started rehearsing, fleshing out the songs from a band’s perspective. Unlike the minimal acoustic guitar and vocals of Makers, which was recorded in pieces over two years, The Brag & Cuss is very much a band record, recorded in six straight weeks in one place with some phenomenal musicians.
Featuring James McAllister (Sufjan Stevens) on drums, Bill Herzog (Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter) on bass, Casey Foubert (Pedro the Lion) on electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and percussion, and Rick Steff (Cat Power, Hank Williams, Jr., etc – who joined the band remotely from Memphis) on Hammond b3, piano, and accordion, there’s a cohesion and grace to this record that can only come from a group of exceptionally talented musicians playing off each other.
The bare emotion that made Makers great is still present in spades, but this time Votolato has ventured further in to the classic country territory of lovers, drinkers, and the distant oasis of a truck stop on a stretch of dark highway. The album is weighed-down by the longing a man feels when he knows he’s nowhere near home, and lightened by the resolve he feels when he knows he’s away trying to make a better life for his family. Votolato can paint broad pictures with a simple turn of phrase, and on this record he pulls you into a world of reminiscences and feelings that are truly timeless and eminently human.
Destined to take its rightful place among the best American records to be released in recent years, The Brag & Cuss will find a friend in anyone who’s ever been gone too long, drunk too much, or fought to stay awake at the wheel.