Any emo-band front man who decides to bare his soul via the acoustic singer-songwriter route has much more to contend with than David St. Hubbins' fine line between stupid and clever. There's an even finer line between wrenching and retching. Fortunately, Seattle's Rocky Votolato has the proper tools, primarily the ability to write a memorable tune and a knack for sidestepping cheesy bullshit, to complete the job properly.
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A few of you might know Votolato as the voice of Waxwing, the Emerald City's answer to Jimmy Eat World, but the twentysomething singer's had a concurrent solo career going since his self-titled 1999 debut. His upcoming effort, Suicide Medicine, is easily his best to date, often recalling the folk vibe of Massachusetts' Pernice Brothers. The album's best moments come when it's just Rocky and his guitar, though, and he's either crooning with his gravelly sweet voice or belting out a near-conversational rant while attacking his instrument with the staccato zeal of a punk rocker. He ain't Chris Carrabba, which means you'll get odes to the angsty side of life -- deferred dreams, vexing relationships, the trials of the working stiff, trying to find one's place in the world, etc. -- sans the emotional vacuity.