As Shakey Graves, Alejandro Rose-Garcia stirs with rootsy fusion
Alejandro Rose-Garcia got his stage name pretty much the same way he makes music: It just happened. He didn’t make a fuss, didn’t overthink it. When he and his friends drunkenly decided to give one another “campfire names” several years ago, he was dubbed Shakey Graves. Just like that, the moniker stuck.
It works, too. Shakey Graves sounds like the kind of ramblin’ man who would emerge from the back of a boxcar, with a crooked smile and beat-up guitar. It makes sense, then, that Rose-Garcia’s songs, rooted in folk, country, and blues traditions, also have the chug of a locomotive. They’re driven by his circular guitar picking patterns that dip into minor chords without warning, shifting from breakneck to downbeat.
Rose-Garcia became a cult favorite when he posted his music online. A series of home recordings, 2011’s “Roll the Bones” had a feral mystique that made you wonder who this guy was. He appeared on the cover with an animal mask concealing his face — or maybe that’s not him at all.
Three years later, Rose-Garcia is finally taking his Shakey Graves alter ego front and center as a leading light in roots music. Well in advance, he has sold out most of his headlining dates, including Friday’s performance at the Sinclair in Cambridge.
He rolls into town behind his new sophomore album, “And the War Came,” which is a brash showcase for his talents. Moving beyond the one-man-band charm of his earlier efforts, it never stays in one place.
“I started the record about two years ago,” Rose-Garcia says. “Initially I went into a studio in Austin and had a plan to redo a bunch of songs with full-band stuff and try to plan everything. It totally backfired, at least to me. I spent a couple of months tracking 16 songs and scrapped all of them. It just sounded really canned.”
When he finally regrouped, he signed to Americana label Dualtone, which gave him a much-needed focus.
The album boils down to three distinct segments: big studio moments with full production, leather-and-lace duets with singer-songwriter Esmé Patterson, and stark solo performances that hum with lo-fidelity.
He found a natural singing partner in Patterson, the country-folk chanteuse who co-wrote and sang three songs on the album, in addition to opening this stretch of tour dates. She and Rose-Garcia met last year when he was on the road with Patterson’s previous band, Paper Bird.
“He’s an amazing, engaging performer, and on this record he kind of drops the veil a little bit and lets people see his internal world,” Patterson says. “There are songs that are a lot more bare and intimate, more than you would be able to see at his live show, which is a performance.”
Rose-Garcia makes a formidable first impression onstage. It makes no difference if he’s alone or with backing musicians: The force is relentless. As the opening act for Shovels & Rope last year at Royale, Rose-Garcia hooted and hollered, stomped his feet, and wailed like a hound dog in the night. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him. Audiences at Newport Folk Festival this summer were similarly enthralled.
Music hasn’t been his only outlet, either. An actor from a young age, he was a star in his high school theater troupe in his native Austin, Texas, and has appeared in films (“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”) and on television (he had a recurring role on “Friday Night Lights” in 2007 as a character named “the Swede”).
“And the War Came” gets closer to bottling his live-wire intensity in concert. He likes to keep things loose, open to possibilities. He’s prone to rearrange and expand his songs live, and he describes his latest tour as “flying blind” by inviting guest musicians to join him.
“I don’t think anyone would tell you this is how you should do it,” he says. “Yeah, let’s not rehearse. We’ll fly people out, slap ’em all on the bus, and throw them onstage at various points, and we’ll see what happens.”
Then again, he thrives on that potential for chaos.
“I feel like if there is a strong suit it’s that I try to play very humanly. I try to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he says. “Everything is sort of tomorrow for me. I can’t really bother myself with focusing on too far in the future because that’s a lot of weight. It would raise unnecessary panic.”
His latest album has been out for only a few weeks, but Rose-Garcia is already looking ahead to the next one.
“I wanted to get this record out to say, ‘Don’t get too attached or expect certain things from me,’” he says, “because I have no interest in hovering in my safety zone when it comes to making music.”