Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered and mastered by Matt Oliver
There are two kinds of men that show up in Shakey Graves songs: the ones that you always wanted to be and the ones that you never wanted to be. Depending on who you are and what you've done with your life, it seems mostly unlikely that you'll see the man that you actually are in one of Alejandro Rose-Garcia's dense and graphic works. They are songs that have actions and consequences, deceit and earnestness - the full-bodied richness of a novella, set in the sketchy, rattlesnake-infested wilds of the southern parts of America. They are pieces of life that don't just hint at an emotion or a plotline, but take us through all of the various aspects of what's happening, why it's happening and whether any of it is what any of the participants want. It lovingly leaves little to the imagination, other than the finer points, but we get most of it with incredible storytelling and a special edge that draws us in tight.
The men that Rose-Garcia writes into his songs are those who can't sit still long enough to have a full meal, those wandering nomads who just continue to bop around, going from one place where they've out-stayed their welcome to a place where they'll soon be not wanted or will be bored with. It's a romantic take on the drifter and the man with either no responsibilities or that asshole who just keeps running away from them. No matter how you cut it, they're living their lives the way they want to and it's hard not to admire and long for something like what they have, as long as they're not hurting too many people. These, I think, are the people who might listen to the advice that comes out of the song, "Word of Mouth," first from St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and then from a stubborn son of a bitch who "holds his breath until he turns blue," whenever "anyone tells him what to do." Both sets of advice are full of wisdom. St. Peter's coming in shortly after a prelude, "Standing around the popular kids/Just hoping St. Peter will let us in too/He says, 'If you value your life, stay off the drugs/If you value the drugs, stay off the map/If you value the map, you better travel some/If you don't want to travel then you'd better run.'" The stubborn man begins, "'If you value your job, stay out of crime/If you value the crime, stay out of doors/If you value them doors, you'd better lock them son/If you don't want to lock them, you'd better buy a gun.'"
The other kind of man in Shakey Graves songs is the kind of man who has done terrible things wrong. He's not just someone out roaming, trying to figure out what the bigger picture means and where he fits in, but he's someone who has dug his own grave. He's like the murderer in "Late July," who's got a date with the electric chair for killing his wife and the mother of his child. He still comes off sounding like a father, but no one wants to be that father, selfishly telling his child, "Yeah, want to have you here when my big heart stops."