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Originally published Friday, June 8, 2012 at 5:31 AM

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Smooth sailing with Rocky Votolato's new sound

Rocky Votolato, who came up 15 years ago as singer-guitarist for the Seattle band Waxwing but now concentrates on a softer, folkish sound, is playing at Seattle's Neumos on Saturday, June 9.

Special to The Seattle Times

On the Internet

Hear Rocky Votolato: www.youtube.com; search "Red River."

Concert preview

Rocky Votolato

Doors open at 8 p.m. Saturday at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $13 advance (206-709-9442 or www.neumos.com).
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Rocky Votolato — who plays Neumos Saturday — first sailed into port 15 years ago as singer-guitarist for the band Waxwing.

The post-grunge foursome worked up a tempestuous racket, channeling fellow Seattleites Sunny Day Real Estate's sweeping sound but adding a metallic flair. But it was Votolato's blanket-warm vocals — limited in range, yet rich in emotion — that truly set Waxwing apart.

Amid the din lurked a troubadour. Votolato seemed to know it. In 1999, he began navigating the calmer waters of acoustic folk-rock, and has been steering with a mostly steady hand since.

Following 2010's "True Devotion," however, things started looking a bit, well ... rocky. Votolato's contract with Seattle's Barsuk label was up, complicating plans for his seventh solo voyage, "Television of Saints." A two-week studio session, in which an album's worth of content was scrapped, led to a canceled European tour and a full revision of his plans.

"My management, friends and family all thought I was crazy at the time," Votolato says in a phone interview.

To right the ship, he not only rerecorded "Television" at home, but brought that concerned family aboard. Brothers Cody and Sonny played second guitar and bass, respectively; his wife, April, made the cover art. A wildly successful Kickstarter campaign — with original paintings by son Kienan among rewards for supporters — financed the release.

"A family affair, all-around," Votolato says proudly. "I like opening the liner notes and seeing all our names listed there."

With 10 tracks at just over half-an-hour, "Television" doesn't drift.

"I focus a lot on being concise," says the 35-year-old musician.

There's a disarming softness to songs like "Little Spring," with its multitracked vocal and Simon-and-Garfunkel-like descending chord progression. "Sunlight" is a pastoral country hymn with harmonica and slide-guitar adornments.

Though he's dialed down the volume, Votolato's punk upbringing remains an influence. In a nod to years playing house shows as a member of Waxwing, he still tests the waters on new material in fans' living rooms.

These excursions, Votolato says with a laugh, "are a bit different than the ones I did when I was younger, in punk basements," but the artist-audience connection is similar.

"It's immediate and intimate, the way acoustic music is meant to be experienced," he says.

Charlie Zaillian: czaillian@gmail.com

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