Mixing folk rock with individualistic acoustic charm, Shakey Graves has for years solidified himself as a driving force in the raw-performance arena. The Austin, TX born Americana artist has built up a hefty, yet little exposed, repertoire since his public start in 2011. It’s a repertoire filled with extreme deep cuts, the kind that super-fans embrace at live shows with body-wide goosebumps and loud voices, proud to know the lyrics and thrilled to hear a song that otherwise may have never reached the light of day.
If Graves is good at one thing (though he’s great at many), it’s creating an element of raw, honest performance and a sense of trust and understanding within his fan base. With his latest album release, a two-disc collection titled Shakey Graves and the Horse He Rode In On, Graves has gifted his longtime fans: the album is in fact the official release of two of Graves’ earlier EP releases, previously titled Nobody’s Fool, originally available Feb. 9-11 2015 and The Donor Blues, released in 2012. Nobody’s Fool was released as a celebratory measure on Shakey Graves Day in 2015. The day, declared by the Mayor of Austin, falls on Feb. 9.
Shakey Graves and the Horse He Rode In On, then, serves as a fitting milestone, the joining of Graves’ recent collection combined with an underrated collage of some of Graves’ best work.
Starting with “The Donor Blues,” disc one reminds listeners of Graves’ most respectable traits. The opening track is complete with watered down vocals and raw guitar. The acoustic track sounds distant, yet complete. Harmonies and live performance solidify the Shakey sound.
“Doe, Jane” opens with an intricate acoustic guitar riff, a staple in Graves’ catalog. The riff is used to keep beat throughout the acoustic song. The track is an example of Graves’ writing style, tracks filled with quick and complex lyrics, though nearly overshadowed by the natural and unfiltered effect of every base and added instrumental. The sound screams community, implying that every song may have been little rehearsed yet perfectly framed in its unedited glory.
“Humor Maze” speaks to the sense of community and wide-involvement, serving as a conversational interlude to the living-room folk tracks.
The remainder of the first disc goes on evolving, Graves’ vocals becoming a more pronounced staple.
Disc two opens with a demo version of “If Not For You,” a staple on Graves’ last large album And The War Came released in 2014. The album is known for large vocals, defined harmonies and catchy, contagious riffs. The demo found on The Horse He Rode In On takes the large and lovable parts from the finalized track and strips them down to the speed of the new collection.
“Nobody’s Fool,” the collection’s single release, sounds like something off of And The War Came, vocally pronounced and produced with more structure than the album leading up to the track. The lyrics are easy to follow and serve as the focus over a shy guitar part. The definition of the track is no better or worse than the vibe of the album as a whole. It’s radio quality, whereas the rest of the album falls somewhere in a living room session category. Graves excels at both, never defining himself as a specific type of performer other than one who obviously puts emotion, passion and spontaneity into each take.
“Oh My Poison” opens with intriguing A Cappella vocals, eventually accelerating with an easy going guitar. The spotlight remains on building and receding harmonies throughout.
“A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” takes the classic Disney tune to new heights, putting any doubt about Graves’ vocal ability to rest. The heavy vocal track is impressive and fully displays Graves’ live performance style in passionate vocal riffs and improvised guitar.
The collection as a whole would be a standout if it was all newly released, but part of what makes it so alluring and satisfying is the fact that the songs have been heard before by many, but are now framed in a more accessible and appreciative light.
The album serves as an honest representation of Shakey Graves and what his music stands for. Nothing is overdone, just tastefully displayed in a way that will always capture the best elements of each track. Whether the focus falls on the guitar, the vocals or the lyrics, Graves has an ear for composition and intelligent arrangement.
— — — —