A Journey of Heart and Mind: And The War Came is Bound to Make Shakey Graves a Bonafide Star

by Michael R. Walker

Where I’m from, there come Autumn thunderstorms raw and immense. If you get behind on your plowing and a storm front sneaks up on you and hits your fields just right, the loose earth starts to rise up meeting the clouds in an apocalyptic fit of dust and muddy rain. If Shakey Graves’ new album And The War Came is our autumnal thunderstorm, we have been behind on our plowing. The earth has surely lifted.

Shakey Graves has been gathering traction and locally devoted fans for some time now, but this album will solidify his status as an Austin hero and with an ounce of luck will launch him further into the national scene. I’ve heard solo acts try to break into a full band sound through the years and continually it sounds forced (see Iron & Wine). Such is not the case with this release. Somehow the same sensibilities that his former lo-fi release, Roll The Bones, carved out still crawl through this recording. Even with the more obvious big-studio production, his down-home stylistic approach to rock and roll is definitive and a testament to his consistent, swinging-dick performance.

I’ve read a few reviews of this album that lean toward the – well it’s good, but he’s covering too many genre – train of thought. Whatever. The old model of genre specific records is dead and it’s silly to expect anyone to adhere to it anymore. Grow up, Peter Pan. Of course when you break genre lines there must still exist some degree of cohesion throughout your tracks, but Alejandro accomplishes this well with his new release. Each song explores something fresh and distinct, but he performs each with the same energy and passion that he would on stage at The White Horse, five years past.

Perhaps I’ve just grown tired of comparing new tracks to existing music, but I’ve also been quite amused at a lot of the reviews out there currently that feel the need to categorize Esmé’s role on the album, comparing her to Emmy Lou, Carry Ann Hearst, or Joy Williams. Come on. She’s not another type-cast female folk singer who needs a male counterpart to fulfill her woman behind the man role (which tends to be the language used to discuss the aforementioned ladies); she’s a woman, a capable musician, and she sings great duets with Alejandro. That’s really all the context we need.

Overall this record follows a literary arc of pastoral pain – a journey of heart and mind. It beautifully explores texture on the folk landscape, delivers powerful performances, and leans hard into poetic lyrics. The record opens with a song called “Only Son” crying out the sorrow of a pastoral poet longing for the days of youth now gone. It’s not quiet, but it’s not overly dramatic in either direction either. The track sets the expectation that you really have to listen to the album. It’s to be reckoned with, not heard in passing.

I’m not going to say anything about their hit single, “Dearly Departed,” because you’ll probably hear it on the radio more than you care to. Even the best songs can demand toll after too much air time. It’s also a disservice to talk about the single when each song on this record is a testament to itself, with or without the Billboard charts.

It’s hard not to love this record. It’s hard not to love the percussive arpeggiations on the acoustic guitar (see “Hard Wired”). The motherfucker finger picks like the bastard son of John Prine and Leo Kottke. Imagine that love scene for a moment. It’s also hard not to love the pig-nose-amp styled distortion that throws open the barn-door-of-the-heart in life’s storm. Take the oddly intense song, “The Perfect Parts” and note the full voiced yet ambient vocal harmonies in the verses, floating over Alejandro’s languid and legato melody. This song belongs on the opener of a Showtime series and I don’t mean that as a slight.

Anyway, I could go on and on but you should just quit reading and go listen to the thing in its entirety. You have a brain so you decide for yourself, bro. Or if you’re one of them lazy millennials who don’t listen to LPs anymore, here’s a link to their performance of that hit single that aired on Conan O’Brien recently that you can post on your stupid Facebook wall. Aren’t they cute?

Want to see Shakey Graves in action? Check out the photo review we did of his Do512 Lounge show with Max Frost!

Michael R. Walker hales from the flatlands of a wind-bleached Amarillo, TX. After departing this desolate place, traveling the world, and surviving a bout with amoebic dysentery he matriculated at Texas State University, obtaining approximately 2 degrees – respectively in Archaeological Iconography and Creative Writing. He loves bluegrass, whiskey, and would gladly sacrifice his friendship with you for a desperate love-spiral of pizza consumption. Michael currently works as a freelance web designer, plays guitar for the Austin band Ghostbunny, is a contributing author for Ovrld, and a poet/essayist for Velvet Dust Magazine.