On Shakey Graves’ latest the Texas folk troubadour persona that inhabited much of his earlier work has traded-in his blues for a psychedelic tomorrow. Graves brings with him today’s tech, his musings on modern human tendencies, and perhaps a slight affinity for, or at least awareness of, Radiohead. The finish is a sonically textured record, heavy on the mood-scapes, dressed convincingly in up-to-the-minute hi-fi and persuasively retro fashion.
With a voice like brown liquor poured over gravel, Shakey Graves sings of religion and immigration, isolation and aging. Ghostly harmonies reverberate around cycling patterns of hypnotic guitar riffs. Drums serve more as percussive accents, punctuating the crash of guitars, as on “Mansion Door,” while a whistling breeze and riverbank bottleneck slide reflect a creepy self-awareness both wishful and wistful on “Dining Alone.”
A sing-song quality permeates many of the 13 tracks, but with a cracked, slightly foreboding tone. It’s not that Shakey Graves intends any harm. It’s more like hearing the inner monologue of the seemingly benign before something goes wrong. He examines little pockets of life in witty detachment, as on “Big Bad Wolf,” worrying not about news he doesn’t read. He laments crimes committed in pursuit of drugs on “Cops and Robbers,” and offers methods of cope on “My Neighbor.”
Guitars layer and embellish, mostly devoid of solo breaks. Throughout, Graves floats above the dream, detailing the placid as much as the storm. String arrangements pop-up like spring flowers; a harp providing a gentle bloom on “Foot of Your Bed.” He lets in a soporific drift on the opening “Counting Sheep” and welcomes its return on the closing, swirly-whirly “Tin Man.”
Time will tell if this is a creative direction the eclectic Shakey Graves maintains or if it’s an outlying concept album in a developing career. It is certainly a shift, and a refreshing one, managing somehow to unnerve as it lulls; the wanting for sleep but knowing it comes without a guarantee of pleasant dreams.