Published May 04, 2018If Shakey Graves' 2014 studio debut, And the War Came, turned the toe-tapping troubadour from cult figure to bona fide artist, then 2018's Can't Wake Up will solidify the Texas native as a roots favourite.
Can't Wake Up stays true to the free-wheeling, finger-picking spirit that earned Graves the designation of Best Emerging Artist at the 2015 Americana Music Awards, but the execution is far more indie than what we've come to expect. There's no reliance on songs catered to specific genre-driven fans; Graves beseeches us to contort expectations and follow him through unfamiliar landscapes that Americana seldom explores.
The yearning vocals are still there, but they are double-tracked for the most part; the raucous guitar picking is a constant, but the tones are informed by psychedelic influence. "My Neighbor" is a striking nexus of Graves' new approach: disorienting vocals, various off-kilter guitar parts, and a refined recording approach far superior to the shoebox aesthetic of 2011's Roll the Bones.
Regardless of new creative avenues, Graves' idiosyncratic songwriting cadence was the only yardstick from previous efforts that needed to be matched. Now with a larger band, rapid-fire lyrics don't serve the same spatial purpose they did when Graves was stomping out his own drum beat. There's a busy conversational quality to the songwriting that strict economical poetics couldn't achieve. There's not a lot of wordless space on Can't Wake Up, as it would seem Mr. Graves has a lot of new things to say if we are open enough to, as he begs on "Big Bad Wolf," let him in. (Dualtone)