Americana is the broad umbrella under which Texas singer-songwriters Shakey Graves and Paul Cauthen fit, but authenticity may be their greater connection: Both create the music they want and in the way that they want.
The two perform at Friday night’s Brazos Nights concert at Indian Spring Park and an evening of hard-to-define but memorable music may be the result.
Cauthen, who opens for Graves, is looking forward to the experience. “Shakey and I get rowdy when together. We bring out the same for each other,” he said. “I’m super excited to play with one of my dear friends in the business.”
Graves is the nom de music for the Austin-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a fake name coined with friends while he attended the Old Settler’s Music Festival in 2007. His father managed Austin’s Paramount Theatre for a time and his mother was an actress and writer, so it’s no surprise that Graves crosses easily within the arts.
Living in Los Angeles in his high school and post-high school years, he worked as an actor, appearing in “Spy Kids 3” and then the second season of “Friday Night Lights” (he played The Swede), which brought him back to Texas to stay. The one-man band act he began to develop on the side soon moved him to the center of the stage in Austin’s music scene, which saw him as a talented singer-songwriter with a distinctive approach to blues, rock and rock ’n’ roll.
He made a splash with his first album, “Roll The Bones,” in 2011, and released the EP “The Donor Blues” the next year. That same year Austin’s mayor declared Feb. 9, Graves’ birthday, as Shakey Graves Day.
In 2014 came his first major label album, Dualtone Records’ “And the War Came.” Its popularity, thanks in part to the breakout single “Dearly Departed,” led to a string of appearances on late-night television and an award for Best Emerging Artist by the Americana Music Association in 2015.
Graves was unavailable for a phone interview, but arrives in Waco after the release of “Can’t Wake Up,” a work that, characteristically, goes in a new direction, blending the semi-autobiographical and fantasy.
Cauthen, too, has a new EP, “Have Mercy,” which, with his baritone and Beau Bedford’s production, sounds like something Elvis or Johnny Cash would have done in the ’70s: Elvis with his gospel stylings, Cash with his emotional and lyrical directness.
Both likely would have agreed with the message of universal brotherhood and cooperation in the opening track, “Everybody Walkin’ This Land,” but only Cauthen would have a line like “you racists, fascists, nihilists and bigots — we’re praying for you, my friend.”
It’s the sort of direct honesty and passion that has come to define the Tyler native, the frontman for the former Austin Americana band Sons of Fathers, and his sound, a big, rollicking collision of rock ’n’ roll, country, blues and rock.
“Everybody Walkin’ This Land” came from a deeply felt sense that people need to realize their shared humanity. “Life is too short. Being too radical in any direction is wrong, in my opinion,” he said. The song also betrays his roots singing in the Church of Christ, where his grandfather urged him to sing with his heart and to the back of the room. “I might have been a fifth generation preacher, but I was a song leader instead,” he said.
“Have Mercy” treats subjects ranging from mercy and forgiveness to his grandfather, free-spirited women and a ’64 Cadillac. “Every day is a song. Any conversation is a song,” he said. “I believe in the Guy Clark method, where you have to write 100 s----y songs before you get a good one.”
Even with a new album out, Cauthen continues to write. He spoke by phone on his way back to Dallas after a songwriting session with Cody Jinks at his ranch, a session that started with Miller Lite and ended with Maker’s Mark somewhere around 4 a.m.
He came home with some promising songs, ranging from a love song, “a pretty song for the girls,” and a dark one on suicide, “The Hemingway Way,” written in the hours after hearing of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide on Friday. “It’s sad as s--- and pretty dark,” he said, adding he hasn’t figured when he’ll drop it on an audience.
No doubt about “Have Mercy,” though — Friday’s Brazos Nights listeners will get a good dose of it. “I’m going to play a lot of that record (Friday night),” he said. “I’ve got a souped-up studio band that has insane talent.”
And, one supposes, passion and honesty to the back of the room.