Kindred Spirits SplitSideOneDummy Records
By Cole Faulkner
Chuck Ragan is no stranger to shared splits with other modern country lovin’ folk troubadours. Most of the time he’s hanging around other punk influenced frontman (Ben Nichols, Jon Snodgrass, Tim Barry, etc…), but for his latest, Kindred Spirits, Ragan’s opted to pair up with someone a little closer to the west-coast indie side of the spectrum, Rocky Votolato. For those unfamiliar, Votolato is the soft spoken antithesis to Ragan’s unmistakably gravelly tone. While this might not be what Ragan’s fanbase would typically gravitate towards, the contrasting sides fit surprisingly well together.
Rocky Votolato plays a clean, mature, folk-flavoured brand of acoustic alternative evoking a somber sentiment. Landing somewhere in the vicinity of The Weakerthans and Good Old War, opener “Sparks Of Recovery” floats in calmy with a weighted air. Votolato feels as if made for an intimate outdoor venue lit by warmly glowing lanterns at the roll of dusk. “We can beat death while we’re still alive,” sings Votolato insightfully amidst the twangy choral strum of “St. Louis.” His crisp delivery accents the clear, mature, emotion flowing from each note in a way that hints at his twenty-plus year career.
Flipping over to the other side, Chuck Ragan’s offerings are much what fans have come to expect from the punk frontman gone Americana posterboy. Instrumentally, the songs’ fall in line with Ragan’s modern output, played under the tuneful direction of his backing band, The Camaraderie. What becomes notable for Ragan’s contributions is the host of guest appearances by many similarly regarded solo artists, giving his side somewhat of a Revival Road feel (excluding the omission of Tim Barry).
“Justice And Fair Shake” opens with a tuneful rough-and-tumble beat made all the more merry with the strokes of that ever-lively and buoyant fiddle. The track features a guest spot during the chorus in which Dave Hause (The Loved Ones) joins Ragan for a chorus of sing-along harmony. The song reaches that special place in memory, although Hause seems to be drowned out by Ragan’s burly calls (although the same can be said of Ben Nichols in the electric guitar-led “Before Dust”). By comparison, Ben Nichols (Lucero), Jon Snodgrass & Chad Price (Drag The River) are given featured appearances as they help reenvision the now crowd favourite, “Vagabond.” Maintaining the same steady twang as the version that initially appeared in Till Midnight, the clear vocal variety of these industry vets shines through in a way that gets pretty close to overshadowing the original.
Assuming that most fans will come into awareness of this split from Ragan’s home on SideOneDummy Records, the bulk of fans will enter for Chuck Ragan, but are likely to quickly become pleased by Rocky Votolato’s contributions as well. While Ragan and Votolato aren’t the most intuitive fit, their styles are likely to be well received by one another’s followings. If you’re into alt-country and Americana, you can’t go wrong with Kindred Spirits.