Shakey Graves. Not the latest in American funeral options – ‘Guaranteed to roll with the earthquakes, contents remain safe!’ – but Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a Lone Star songwriter whose October 7 release And The War Came is causing all manner of traditionalists in the States to sit up and listen. This boy doesn’t so much stand on ceremony as jump up and down on him until it submits, his hybrid Blues and Country squall whipping in from various shores and uprooting whatever’s in its path.
Self-releasing songs on YouTube a few years ago, he’s risen from the digital club with 2011s Roll The Bones to a deal with Dualtone to support slots for Shovels and Rope and his own headline shows. It’s a fast-track, but if it’s planned, I’m Lester Bangs. Graves appears far more comfortable working on the periphery, where his profile can take a back-seat to a rich trail-stew of influences and a bloody-mindedness that saw him scrap 16 studio tracks because they were too polished. He has a quickly growing reputation for no-holds-barred live performances where to all intents and purposes he appears to be the only man within a thousand mile radius, a tight-wound body of energy emitting sparks from start to finish.
That intensity and focus is easily identifiable on And The War Came. Only Son begins as a gently picked opener highlighting a fragile, cracked tenor before opening up into ragged rhythms, make-piece percussion and hymnal chorus. It’s one of the most arresting opening gambits I’ve heard this year and multiple listens do not dim it’s impact or the fact that you can hear something new in it every time. The first of three songs with Esme Patterson, Dearly Departed can only be described as punk meets Eddie Cochran, a rumbling conversational duet with a great middle-eight that strips the noise away for harmonies and subtle guitar. The Perfect Parts turns fuzz-Blues into a rocky sea over which anguished double-tracked vocals roll and yaw. It stops. It starts. Filigree guitar carry screams of teenage love with disturbing twists – ‘Well you know I’ve known you since we were three / Oh we fell in love at seventeen… well your eyes will burn in alcohol / To sterilise the perfect parts / At least, that’s a start.’ It rises to an unholy crescendo before the sun comes out. Released in the 80s, the PMRC* would have had a field day. I think it’s brilliant.
Hard Wired fuses old time American folk with Bakersfield Country and a melody and lyrics that repeats on you like a good burger – ‘Yeah I am as I was / Sick with mercy and love / Well the truth always was, we were hard wired’. The variety never lets up, with Johnny Cash guitar on Big Time Nashville Star (another duet with Esme), double bass thrum and loose snare on Pansy Waltz and ambient pedal steel on House Of Winston. Of these, the last plays fast and loose with the edge of pop, a very memorable guitar melody and beautiful vocal guaranteeing that the second half of the album is as strong as the first. Penultimate track If Not For You spends one and half minutes settling into a dirty Blues stomp where the guitar sounds like its being rolled slowly through a mangle while Graves steps on and off a fuzz pedal. But melodic; I want you to know it’s still melodic – just in-a-good-way messy.
The album ends with the third of his duets with Esme, Call It Heaven. It’s an acoustic strum around his cracked and pained voice and her high harmony, conjuring images of two feral back-porch travellers singing for their supper, dreaming of steak but resigned to scraps. In a recent Boston Globe article, Graves shared his dissatisfaction with being pigeon-holed, keen to confirm in writing that we should not expect the same the next time around. It’s a double edged sword; I’d be very happy with another album based on this fusion, but isn’t it exciting to find an artist who can produce quality like this and then wander off into bad weather looking for his muse? Superb.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
*Parents Music Resource Centre – a disturbingly McCarthyist group of Christian mothers who railed against artistic freedoms on the basis that music would cause untold and permanent damage to their children. Loved gardens; hated swearing and sex – responsible for stickers ruining album covers. Grrr.