Shakey Graves’ Debut Album Review

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Last semester I wrote an artist-to-watch piece on Alejandro Rose-Garcia, known better by his stage name Shakey Graves. Now Graves is back, and riding the underground success of his debut LP Roll the Bones, in which he reaffirms himself as a rising star with his recently released full-length album, And the War Came. Shakey Graves has had an interesting trajectory as an artist, basing himself in New York, Los Angeles, and finally in Austin, Texas. Along the way he had a recurring role in the hit show Friday Night Lights, experimented with his unique alt-folk-country sound, and released both an EP and full album on his website. His fan base grew through word of mouth, extensive touring and through the magic of YouTube, and And the War Came is his most promising work to date.

The album opens with the acoustic “Only Son”, and features the off-kilter tempi and rhythms that Shakey Graves has employed in the past. However, after the piece is over, the album diverges into new territories.

“Dearly Departed” features song-writing collaborator Esmé Patterson, and is easily the most pop-driven song on the album. Trading melodies and harmonies, the two singers weave a stomping tale of an empty house—haunted by the ghost of a failed relationship—that is simultaneously heartbreaking and playful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3jk3pflofk

Similarly, “The Perfect Parts” shows Graves using a Black Keys-style riff that breaks into a rollicking southern rock jam and displays his vocal prowess and competency in a variety of styles.

“Big Time Nashville Star” again finds Graves and Patterson in a duet, this time for a traditional, jaunty country tune.

My favorite song on the album has to be “Family and Genus”, a song that perfectly shows Graves’ powerful songwriting technique and willingness to experiment. The song opens with an ambient cloud of synth bass and eerie bells that later opens into Graves’ skillful fingerpicking and loud-soft dynamic.

Overall, Shakey Graves shows a new side of his songwriting on this album, delving into waltzes, southern rock, and folk alike. For most of the album, he forgoes his usual one-man-band setup consisting of a guitar and kick drum fashioned out of an old suitcase in favor of a backing band, but it is when he plays solo that he truly shines.

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While this works to push Graves’ music into a new realm, it takes away from what was originally so enticing about his work: the fact that it was all done by one man. His chromatically focused country-folk, that at times fell eerily silent, only to be blown apart by fuzzy guitar, is only present on “If Not for You”, while the rest of the album lies more on the side of pop-folk/county.

I rate the album a 5/10.  Clearly we are watching an artist in transition, both trying to hit a wider audience, while still holding onto his roots, giving the album a disjointed feel. Despite the inconsistency, I enjoyed this album, and look forward to Graves’ next project.

Image source:  shakeygraves.com; redfishingboat on flickr.com