Review by Shannon Shumaker
Rocky Votolato’s Hospital Handshakes is full of soulful, emotional songs that will leave you hanging on his every word. It’s hard not to feel connected to the words on the songs on this album, many of which are about finding oneself and overcoming hardships. On top of the emotional vocal work and meaningful lyrics, musically, Hospital Handshakes is perfect for springtime, with soft acoustic guitars and a sound that is the perfect combination of bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Augustana.
A surprising choice for a first song, “Boxcutter” opens the album on a mellow, somber tone. While I prefer most records to begin with a bang, the slow beginning to Hospital Handshakes is the perfect thing to set the mood. The following song, “The Hereafter” picks up the pace with a warm, upbeat vibe and gorgeous vocal work that is hard not to fall in love with. Despite the contrast in moods and sounds on the album, the songs flow well together. Mellow “Boxcutter” goes easily into the warm, upbeat, “The Hereafter,” which then transitions into the album’s darker title track, and they all do it without missing a beat. The difference in songs never seems out of place or too much, and the result is an incredibly to listen to album. The lyricism and vocal work also help this, with strong, insightful lyrics throughout every song, despite the overall mood.
“Hospital Handshakes,” however, is definitely one of the most emotionally charged songs on the album, and is full of some of the best lyricism, as well. The line, “We must each be broken/If we’re ever to be made new again,” speaks miles not only for Votoloto himself, but for the themes on the album, as well. “White-Knuckles” is another one of the strongest songs on the album, both lyrically and musically. Right off the bat, “White-Knuckles” hooks you with strong guitar work and lyrics that catch your attention as Votoloto sings, “It’s time to white knuckle this shit/Make friends with these demons/And just get on with it/Nothing’s changed and it never will.” The overall feeling of “White-Knuckles” is positive and upbeat, but realistic, capturing the true feeling of the majority of Hospital Handshakes.
There are definitely a few songs on Hospital Handshakes that seem to shine more than others, and another strong song on the album is the moody and eerie, “Sawdust and Shavings,” which hosts some beautiful guitar work and lyrics that paint a picture and tell a story. “Sawdust and Shavings” sounds very different from much of Hospital Handshakes which sets it apart from the pack and makes it a stand-out song. On the other side of the spectrum, “This Is My Work” brings the album to a close with a more happy and summer feeling. “This Is My Work” is a total love song, and leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy before the album closes with “The Finish Line.”
By the time Hospital Handshakes comes to a close, you’re left lingering on Votoloto’s every word. Easily the strongest aspect of the album, the lyrics are well worth listening closely to on every song. Hospital Handshakes, while a perfect folky album for spring and summertime, is also meaningful and emotional, and definitely worth the listen.
Listen to "White-Knuckles"