Rocky Votolato's music has a hushed, strummy ambiance and bittersweet, minor key melodies that recall Elliott Smith — albeit with more backbeat and a hint of country. Votolato grew up in Dallas before moving to Seattle for high school, and he blends the disparate sensibilities honed in those cities with sparse, emotionally parched paeans that glimmer with cloudy coffeehouse-pop refinement. The songs sweat ache, existential longing, and anguish over life's ephemerality ("Holding Onto Water"). His third album, 2003's Suicide Medicine, says it all. The success of 2006's follow-up, Makers, hastened a descent into booze and pills. The self-medication nearly ended in suicide. "I don't think I have the tools to deal with the type of success I was having . . . I was dead serious about getting out," Votolato says. After 2007's Beg & Curse tour, he took time off to right the ship. Last year's return, True Devotion, finds a more centered and sober Votolato crafting the finest music of his life. Still meditative and questioning, his songs are buoyed by an understanding and acceptance of our responsibilities and frailties. The crisp, wistful pop carries these sentiments like a cool breeze. "It's a fire that can either totally destroy you," says Votolato of his dark moment, "or be cleansing and bring out some of the wisdom."