BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Rocky Votolato could have easily followed his muse in any number of directions. Hailing from a small Texas town, he could have become a country singer who hailed the virtues of small town life and the roads that lead away. His name would befit that of a rough and tumble fighter, had he opted to go, say, the wrestling route. Heavily influenced by the sounds of punk and hardcore, he could have gone insurgent regardless, forsaking melody for the sake of mayhem. In fact, he nearly did just that after launching his career with Waxwing, a band that won a local following among the discriminating Seattle crowd while gaining a small but significant national fan base as well.
Votolato’s new album, inexplicably titled Hospital Handshakes, offers yet another example of his considerable skills, a collection of songs that fires up an urgency that extends from first song to last. The surging tempo that underscores “Royal” – which finds him repeating the phrase “I wish I was a cannonball” — suggests a certain underlying tension crying to let loose. “White Knuckles” finds him clenching his fists in a manner consisting with its title, its strum and tumble qualifying it for a stadium shout-out. And when Votolato wails “I’ve wasted so much time” on “Rumi”, one of the most stirring songs in an album filled with explosive anthems, the emotion is unmistakeable.
Ably produced by Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, Hospital Handshakes isn’t only about rage or rebellion, even though in tone and temperament it often leans that way. The themes focus instead on healing, longing and finding a sense of purpose in life in a world where clarity and direction can often seem muddled. “Sawdust & Shavings,” the album’s most reflective offering, and the track that follows, “So Unexpected”, convey those desires with the full flush of conviction and emotion, but it’s one song in particular – that being “This Is My Work”, a number that falls near the end of the album – which expresses it best. “I want to be here for you,” Votolato declares, leaving no doubt as to the hopes that he still harbors.
DOWNLOAD: “Sawdust & Shavings,” “So Unexpected,” “Royal”