Americana musician Shakey Graves was one of those artists I stumbled upon accidentally while listening to an artist radio on Spotify.
His unique blend of folk, country and bluegrass (all components of the Americana genre) makes his debut 2014 album, “And the War Came,” an entirely satisfying musical experience.
The album begins with a short (seven seconds long) message that sounds filtered through an old-timey record player. This aspect of the album crops up in other songs, especially “Family and Genus” further into the album.
Another feature of the album is his multiple collaborations with the indie folk musician, Esmé Patterson. Three songs on the album, “Dearly Departed,” “Big Time Nashville Star” and “Call It Heaven,” feature Patterson.
Patterson’s more feminine, more lilting voice compliments Shakey Graves’s gravely vocals. The two singers compliment each other, leaving no wonder as to why they decided to collaborate so heavily on the album.
“And the War Came” fluctuates between more somber tones, like in “Only Son,” to a more upbeat sound like in “Big Time Nashville Star” and “Hard Wired.” The songs are reminiscent of Hozier or Florence Welch, walking the line between surreal, slightly odd lyrics but excellent instrumentals and vocals.
Among my favorite songs from the album are “Hard Wired,” “Pansy Waltz” and “If Not For You.”
“Hard Wired” begins a little strangely, with something or someone making clacking noises before Shakey Graves begins to sing. The drumbeat makes “Hard Wired” a song to tap your feet to, while you hum along with the lyrics. As the song progresses, the drums are combined with some banjo and guitar, increasing the elements of the song as the track goes on.
“Hard Wired” describes a complicated relationship between the singer and an unknown other. As the name of the song suggests, despite this unknown other going out and trying new things, they and the vocalist are “hard wired” to be together. Inevitably, they end up together, despite the efforts of one or the other to sever the relationship.
“Pansy Waltz” starts with a slow, melodic waltzy tune. The song ebbs and flows with its instrumentals and lyrics. Guitars, banjo and drums with cymbals give it its beat, and Shakey Graves drawn-out lyrics and melancholy tunes make it sound like a traditional waltz one would hear in a dance hall.
The song follows the vocalist describing the toxic relationship between him and another person, saying “I fixed the screen / raised the barn / but still you call me from the moon / every single afternoon / tell me all about the astronauts you’ve come to love / and how the earth looks from above / and how I should’ve been a better friend to you.”
“If Not For You” starts much like the others: slow and rhythmic, with one instrument dominating as others slowly start to enter into the song. Then the song begins to ramp up, specifically with harsh electric guitar breaking through the slower beats characteristic of most of “And the War Came.”
Shakey Graves comes in rather late into the song, taking cues from the indie influences with indistinguishable lyrics. The song starts to pick up from there, relying heavily on loud guitar and steady drums. In my opinion, the best part of the song is in the end, when the messy, loud music of the beginning starts to sort itself out.
Overall, Shakey Graves’s excellent blending of the genres that make up Americana music make his one and only album a must-listen. His music is especially wonderful for studying, as even his slow songs pack a lot of punch.
Where to start: “Tomorrow,” “Hard Wired,” “Unlucky Skin”