Rocky Votolato and Chuck Ragan: Kindred Spirit

Kindred Spirit serves as a fine introduction for two artists clearly ready for prime time.
Rocky Votolato and Chuck Ragan
Kindred Spirit

Kindred Spirit would seem an apt name any time two artists agree to split a project and each claim half the recording for themselves. Although there’s no collaboration per se, a compatible sound would seem a necessity, especially in this case which finds two like-minded artists taking three songs apiece to fill out a six track EP.

So here we have Rocky Votolato and Chuck Ragan doing the honors and sharing some of the finest work of each of their respective careers. For his part, Votolato comes into the project after a notable early career with the band Waxwing and a substantial solo career which has found him gaining substantial notoriety and a reputation as something of a multi-tasker. That’s evidenced by his various collaborations with other artists, including Damien Jurado, the Get Up Kids, members of Death Cab for Cutie, Rosie Thomas and other members of the Seattle aggregate of which he’s part. It’s also worth noting that Votolato just released a full-length effort of his own earlier this year, the well-received Hospital Handshake. Clearly, this is an individual whose work effort is beyond repute.

Chuck Ragan can claim an equally respectable resume, courtesy of an early music career that jumpstarted with the Gainesville Florida-based punk outfit Hot Water Music. Ten years ago, the band parted amiably and Ragan moved on musically as a solo artist. However he did retain his visceral edge, albeit in more musically stripped down circumstances. His Revival Tour found him sharing the stage with other acoustic artists and mixing up the genres, a characteristic that’s become a hallmark of Ragan’s recent work. Likewise, a collaborative effort with U.K. singer/songwriters Sam Russo, Helen Chambers and Jimmy Islip in 2011 showed his willingness to share the attention if there’s the right reason.

All of which brings us to the present day and a work that ranks with the best efforts on each man’s career. All six songs — the first three by Votolato, the final three by Ragan — are exceptional, and while limiting the number of tracks appears indicative of their ability to glean the best from the get-go, it’s also obvious the two have risen to new heights in order to boost their competitive edge. Votolato’s contributions tend to be the mellower of the two, given the quiet resolve that marks “Sparks of Recovery” and the sense of yearning instilled in “St. Louis”. Nevertheless, “Let Go” does as its title suggests and turns that desire into a feeling a sense of quiet resolve that makes it all the more emphatic in its overall impact.

For his part, Ragan tends to lean more on passion, and his scratchy vocals frequently bring Springsteen to mind, especially when in the company of the E Street Band. The rousing “Vagabond” and determined drive of “Justice and Fair Shake” reinforce that impression, but when Ragan literally seems to let go, as in the over arched closing track “Before Dust,” resolve veers closer to recklessness as Ragan gives it his all. The results are simply stunning.

Ultimately, Kindred Spirit serves as a fine introduction for two artists clearly ready for prime time. More importantly perhaps, it also reinforces an impression that longtime fans are already quite aware of — namely that anyone looking for the next two important voices of the alternative insurgent variety really need look no further.

RATING 8 / 10