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The Brag and Cuss punch

Punker Rocky Votolato travels down the Americana road

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Rocky Votolato, who released his fifth full length record, The Brag and Cuss, on Barsuk, June 12, will be hitting Hell’s Kitchen on Friday, July 20.

Normally, guys named Rocky don’t touch you the way Votolato can. Normally, guys name Rocky punch you in the face or service your brakes or knock up your sister — maybe all three. Rocky Votolato isn’t your typical Rocky … at least these days.

Born in Texas and transplanted to Seattle as a teenager, Votolato can certainly claim punk rock on his resume. It wasn’t long ago that his songs had a far more aggressive tone — and only a few years before that he was the leader of Waxwing — a seminal Seattle indie/punk band. He was a kid who grew up on country but cut his teeth on punk.

Votolato is not one of those bleeding-heart types that wears it all on his sleeve and can’t leave the house without eyeliner. At 29 years old, married, and sporting a couple of kidlets, Votolato has made the journey and found himself at a dusty intersection. Call it Americana. Call it folk. Call him singer/songwriter. Say whatever the hell you want. The Brag and Cuss only further proves what folks have been saying for some time.

Rocky Votolato makes good music.

2003, and Makers (Votolato’s debut on Barsuk), christened Votolato’s jump into the realm of country-tinged singer/songwriter. He toned it down, kept things simple, and in the process produced a record Tim Easton would cream his Levis for — worthy of every Simon and Garfunkel comparison it received. Like its name, familiar to anyone who’s ever woken up to the glare of hot sun after a night of Kentucky bourbon stupidity, Makers was a record of drinking and drifting songs, lyrically walking the line between fictional storytelling and true-life confessional — lifting Votolato above the hordes of sappy hacks with acoustics, flooding the world with diary entries set to minor chords. With Makers, Votolato reached adulthood.

The Brag and Cuss picks up where Makers left off. If, in the beginning, Votolato had any reservations about embracing his smoky stool, steel guitar roots — they’re gone. Votolato seems at home on The Brag and Cuss, never reaching beyond the limits of a steady strum, harmonica line, simple beat, and country guitar cry, but always milking them for all they’re worth. On the record’s second track, and first single, “Postcard From Kentucky,” Votolato’s voice two-steps with a banjo, and comes as close to physically transplanting you to that “filling station at 2 a.m. filling out a postcard again…” as a simple song possibly can. Votolato has that ability, painting pictures that transplant you — simple and familiar under the weight of a star-filled sky. When Votolato sings “I knew you before you were born,” on the album’s third track, it seems like, just maybe, Votolato has.

Votolato, as part of a tour that takes him down both coasts in support of The Brag and Cuss, will hit Hell’s Kitchen on Friday, July 20. Langhorne Slim will join him. Votolato proves that growing up doesn’t necessarily have to be less interesting than being young, and with enough skill and steel guitar, even a punk from Seattle can conquer the mountain Americana.

There’s no reason to cuss, but plenty for braggin’. Votolato is not to be missed.

[Hell’s Kitchen, with Langhorne Slim and Ghosts & Liars, Friday, July 20, 6 p.m., all ages, $10 advance, $12 door, 3728 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.759.6003]

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