Shakey Graves doesn’t sweat keeping it real. His name’s not Shakey Graves for starters— it’s Alejandro Rose-Garcia — and the Austin, Texas-based Americana artist has specifically embraced the theatrical side of his music.
Because he has a background in acting, including a role in “Friday Night Lights,” that’s not a big surprise. If anything, the surprise is that he has done it so effectively. This year, he won the Americana Music Association Award for best emerging artist.
Shakey Graves, who will play The Civic Theatre on Tuesday night, started as a one-man band, using a suitcase as a kick drum onstage. It was a good visual and highlighted his image as an itinerant musician, drifting from town to town, making music with what he had. It was the sort of setup a guy named Shakey Graves would have.
His songs, charisma and self-consciously lo-fi sensibility helped him find enough love in Austin that a day was proclaimed Shakey Graves Day. He released “And the War Came” in 2014 and became more than an Austin phenomenon, as the album made it easier for those new to his music to connect.
The delicate, finger-picked “Only Son” has a lovely melancholy as it deals with his struggle to open his heart, while the more rollicking “Big Time Nashville Star” maps a couple’s complicated relationship.
The latter features singer Esmé Patterson, as do two other songs on the album, and the two have the sort of natural chemistry that makes everything they sing together sound like the product of years of intimacy.
“And the War Came” is an unusual album to receive Americana acclaim, though. The Americana community often has defined itself in opposition to the modern world of studio chicanery, and its current poster boys and girls are Jason Isbell, Shovels and Rope and Sturgill Simpson — artists who rely on good writing, good singing and good playing.
Their records sound as if they were recorded live in the studio, whereas “And the War Came” is clearly fabricated. Parts emerge out of nowhere and disappear just as suddenly.
Graves makes no effort to make tracks sound natural even though his voice and acoustic guitar are at the heart of every song, but the album sounds more contemporary because of that. It helps that when he sings at his most forceful, he brings to mind Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill more than any country icon from the ’50s or ’60s, but his deliberate inauthenticity is the sound of contemporary hits.
No record near the top of Billboard’s charts sounds like the creation of one band in one studio for one three- or four-hour session.
Unlike many hits, Shakey Graves makes no effort to hide the seams. He makes the theatrical element of his music as plain on the album as he did when he kept time on a suitcase, and that kind of honesty does have a home in Americana.