The second time I saw him, he was a musician called Shakey Graves.
It’s in a cut-back video for the song “Roll the Bones.” He’s stripped down to a sleeveless shirt, and the studio around him is bare but for a smattering of unoccupied instruments and gear. He has a simple setup of a guitar and kick drum, headphones and mic.
Then, over a progressively unwinding, building thrum and strum beat, comes his voice. It’s grit and gravel woven through a rolling, rocking country blues sound.
It’s surprisingly smooth. It’s unsurprisingly amazing.
A tune can catch my ear, but I’m such a sucker for some good lyrics. Give me both, and I’m done in. Even with the bare video set and seemingly light instrumental accompaniment, the song is anything but simple. “Yeah, try to forget all them enemies and debts,” he sings in “Roll the Bones.” “They’ll just chase you ’round and give you sour dreams.”
After seeing that video, I realized I recognized that light scruff and that face.
The first time I saw him, he was actor Alejandro Rose-Garcia.
He played a character called “The Swede,” a band frontman even in fiction, and a lifeguard. For four romantically tense episodes, he was Julie Taylor’s crush on Friday Night Lights. Their storyline ended in heartbreak in 2007, but with “Roll the Bones” in 2011, a new love was born. Mine.
It’s now years after the Roll the Bones album release from 2011, and he’s well-recognized by stage name Shakey Graves with a new label, a new album, and an international tour. His shows are selling out quickly, he’s been on the The Late Show with David Letterman, and he was featured in Spotify Sessions. He has reached the point in his career at which his hometown mayor proclaimed a “Shakey Graves Day” in Austin, TX.
With And the War Came, released in October 2014, there’s a shift in his sound that’s as physical as the upped production value in the album’s audio. He duets with Esmé Patterson in a few songs. He has a band to back him up.
The sound is as gritty and as full as before, but somehow with a deeper component. He’s not alone on this album, and it’s as if you can feel the band’s presence – not just hear it. Even his lyrics bring in others where he sang as the solo man in his debut album. And still, there lies the original integrity from Roll the Bones with that composed, rough, bare quality to his voice and the instruments behind him, such as in “Hard Wired.”
Overall, it’s as unsurprisingly amazing as before, yet I’m still surprised by how many times I’m cycling through this album on repeat. “Well, your lies will burn in alcohol to sterilize the perfect parts,” he sings in “The Perfect Parts.” “Well, at least that’s a start.”
The third time I see him, it’ll be as an established Shakey Graves – now in full swing with a band and a full, sophomore album under his belt. This Tuesday (3/24), he’ll play for a full crowd at his sold out show at the 9:30 Club here in Washington, D.C.
And I can’t wait to see him again.