Listen To: Roll The Bones

Listen To: Roll The Bones

Wesley MurchisonThursday,3 July 2014

The Snap:

Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a.k.a. Shakey Graves, is a man from Austin, TX who plays a mean suitcase. Actually, it’s an old suitcase with a drum build into it and played with two pedals: one for the drum head and the other for a precariously placed tambourine.

The Download:

O’ so long ago, music industry sages foretold that musicians would only be able to afford a living playing live shows. The decline of record shops, the rise of iTunes and the pilfering of profits by pirates using peer-to-peer file sharing were all converging on the lonely ol’ dreamer to steal the glory of the fat record contract, the chart-topping debut album and the arena-filled concerts.

For one-man band Shakey Graves, though, the do-more-live shows argument is a wasted mantra to his road weary ways. Fans can’t even buy an album through Amazon or Google Play. Mr. Graves only sells his music through his website at a bargain-basement price of name-your-own figure. But make no mistake about it, Mr. Graves ain’t peddling no snake oil; his wares are genuine.

In Roll The Bones, released in 2011, the artifacts of the hard traveling musician make for a conceptual thread that winds together the best of the songs into an image of a journeyed loner. But instead of a rehashed cliché, Shakey Graves updates the persona for the times by tapping modern day anxiety rather than blues melancholy; nor does he betray the original folksy sound when he mixes in more electrifying instrumentations.

The banjo picking and soft-voiced melody in the first track “Unlucky Skin” envelops the misleading lyrics that are more reminiscent of Blind Melon’s “Skinned.” The Appalachian music and background vocals during the chorus give the singer’s poetics that familiar blues, western personality:

Life tasted sweetly,
When I was the bad twin,
Devil himself said,
Waving me by,
All of my tattoos,
They were of no use,
No monetary value have I

The sorrowful troubles of the first song give way to whispered boasting of a traveling musician’s life. Hollywood and New York are the only two sojourns Mr. Graves, “bored and lazy,” chooses to recall whilst strumming his guitar gingerly despite an impressive itinerary on his website that has him traversing state and international borders, starting with Quincy, CA on July 3 before emigrating to Manitoba, Canada to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival on July 9. He continues from there to Calary, AB; Austin, TX; Newport, RI and much more. With so many destinations, one would think Mr. Graves would have included at least one town that resides in flyover country.

The third, and probably the best, song — not surprising it’s the album’s namesake — “Roll The Bones” plays off Shakey’s last name of “Graves” to continue the skeletal motif. But “Roll the Bones” isn’t about death, but the pain that comes with taking a chance and suffering the consequences. The bittersweet vocals sing “Yeah so it goes / Yeah so it goes” are accompanied by twangy guitar picking and clip-clop of a horse like clapping. All combined the music drives home the song’s message that life is akin to gambling with dice when one rolls “’em bones.”

Further on, the album starts to diverge and Mr. Graves’ talents start to look a little shaky: “I’m on Fire,” though a well-executed upbeat tempo with equally measurable lyrics, has no thematic tie in to the previous tracks; “Georgia Moon” is a brief return to the theme with lunar illuminated Southern culture allusions before the incongruous, half-backed experimentation of “Business Lunch” completely shatters the album’s cohesion. The latter song’s intro must be what the transcribed tapes in Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody sounded like.

Luckily, one minute in to “City in a Bottle (live @ 2023)” corrects the wayward deviation with weepy horns and belly welling followed by shout-singing proclamations like a carnival ringmaster. Fair warning, “The Seal Hunter” remixes a clinical description of human genitalia. The graphic visuals of the authoritative voice make the song’s innocent Dick-and-Jane lyrics sound like a licentiously overwrought analogy. Overall, the album’s strengths outweigh the variations in style and content, but in this digital age the song reins and the album’s flow needn’t detract from Mr. Graves’ intimate stage presence.

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Hat Tips:

YouTube, WestWord, Bandcamp, Songkick, Image Credit: Flickr

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