Slaid Cleaves




















Slaid Cleaves
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Slaid Cleaves spins stories with a novelist’s eye and a poet’s heart. Twenty years into his career, the celebrated songwriter’s Still Fighting the War spotlights an artist in peak form. Cleaves’ seamless new collection delivers vivid snapshots as wildly cinematic as they are carefully chiseled. Dress William Faulkner with faded jeans and a worn six-string for a good idea. “Slaid’s a craftsman,” says Terri Hendrix, who sings harmony on “Texas Love Song.” “He goes about his songs like a woodworker.”

 

Accordingly, Cleaves’ earthy narratives stand oak strong. “Men go off to war for a hundred reasons/But they all come home with the same demons,” he sings on the album’s title track. “Some you can keep at bay for a while/Some will pin you to the floor/You’ve been home for a couple of years now, buddy/But you’re still fighting the war.” Few writers frame bruised souls as clearly. Fewer still deliver a punch with such striking immediacy.

 

“I started ‘Still Fighting the War’ four years ago and originally each verse was a separate character,” Cleaves explains. “Each verse was about getting swindled. One was about the economy, one was about a returning veteran, one was about a broken-up couple. It was too cumbersome, so I focused in on the soldier. The key that made it all work came as I was talking to my friend and occasional co-writer, Ron Coy. A troubled Vietnam vet buddy of his had recently passed away. Ron said, ‘All this time, it was like he was still fighting the war.’ I knew instantly that was the perfect way to summarize the song.”

 

Cleaves delivers equal measures of hope and resignation throughout this 2013 release as life lessons slide subtly through side doors. “Normally when I start writing a new batch, a theme starts to emerge after three or four songs,” says Cleaves, who built an unlikely success story from scratch after moving to Austin, Texas, from Maine two decades ago. “This time around I thought, I’m just gonna write where the muse takes me and each song will be its own thing. So I ended up with a CD that has a bit more variety on it compared to my previous releases. Half the songs are about struggle and perseverance and half are all over the place, some tongue-in-cheek stuff, a gospel song, a Texas pride song.”

 

Witness deft wordplay on the latter: “Your wit’s as sharp as a prickly pear/The sun shines in your golden hair/Your smile hits me right in the solar plexus,” Cleaves sings with a wink in “Texas Love Song.” “Skin as soft as early morning rain/Temper like a Gulf Coast hurricane/I love you even more than I love Texas.” “Originally, the phrase was ‘I love you almost as much as I love Texas,’” Cleaves says, “because that's about as far as a true proud Texan will go. Then I realized that if I committed the sin of saying ‘I love you even more than I love Texas,’ it trips off the tongue better. It was a fun little challenge to come up with so many rhymes for ‘Texas.’”

 

 

Of course, Cleaves conquered the task. Longtime fans expect nothing less. After all, Still Fighting the War follows the razor sharp songwriter’s undeniable hat trick – Broke Down (2000), Wishbones (2004) and Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (2009) – that established him as a singular storyteller. His golden key: effortlessly shading dark with light. Cue Cleaves’ excellent double-disc Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge for inarguable evidence (“Drinkin’ Days,” “Wishbones,” “Horseshoe Lounge”).

 

“You get a lot of the man behind the lyrics,” Hendrix says. “What you see with Slaid is what you get: He doesn’t have the eyes of a cynic. He has optimism about him through a realistic gaze and writes with a wise voice.” The Kerrville Folk Festival recognized those intangible qualities long ago when Cleaves won its hallowed New Folk award in 1992. He’s doubled down ever since with literate story songs exponentially more mature and meaningful.

 

Consider one other new high water mark. “But they figured it out/And shipped the elbow grease/Down to Mexico/And off to the Chinese,” Cleaves sings on the haunting meditation “Rust Belt Fields.” “And I learned a little something 'bout how things are/No one remembers your name just for working hard.” Childhood friend Rod Picott co-wrote those potent lines - the duo has split pages on several indelible blue-collar vignettes over the years (“Broke Down,” “Sinner’s Prayer,” “Bring It On,” “Black T-shirt”).

 

“Slaid is my favorite co-writer,” says Picott, who also co-wrote the new album’s standout “Welding Burns.” “He’s a smart writer with a gift for wringing the most out of a melody. Slaid understands that the song has to rule. He's patient and unwavering in his pursuit of the best.” Cleaves humbly accepts the praise. “Despite the odds, through persistence and good fortune I've carved out a niche for myself,” he says. “You could say I have a ‘Whim of Iron.’"

Date Venue City State Note
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12/08/2010 - Slaid Cleaves - Read More
10/13/2010 - me and thee presents Slaid Cleaves Oct. 22 - Read More
06/25/2009 - Slaid Cleaves at Slates Maine-bred singer/songwriter looks forward to returning  - Read More
05/09/2009 - Slaid Cleaves - Read More
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05/01/2006 - Slaid Cleaves Q&A - Read More
06/01/2004 - Slaid Cleaves Q&A '04 - Read More
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Average Rating : 4.8              Total Reviews: 28


Slaid Cleaves  09/06/2009            
bill bo
Best yet!
Slaid Cleaves  08/31/2009            
Claxston Sneed
tHIS cd ROCKS!
Slaid Cleaves  06/13/2009            
AC
A good friend and I had the pleasure to see Slaid live at the Cave Creek Coffee Company last night. It is such a fantastic experience, between the story telling, the voice and the setting. We walked away just thrilled to have experienced it.
Slaid Cleaves  05/14/2009            
NO DISCLAIMER'S RESPONSE TO MR. PRINE'S REVIEW
Mr. Prine I have been a fan of yours since birth.... thank you daddy....when I saw your review of Slaid Cleave's "Everything you love will be taken away".. I was troubled...I am the ULTIMATE S;laid fan.. yet, when I heard only the 30 second snippets that were available I was worried that Slaid had not only HIT his peak.... he destroyed it.... It was only when I was able to hear the full album....more than once... that I realized Slaid was the genius of this generation that I believed him to be.... I can accept your "so-so" review if you can honestly say that you listened to his complete album in the frame of mind "we" have to be in to let the music in. Here are my thoughts.... if I had heard a 30 second snippet of "blue umbrella" on a bad day... I would have never realized the power of that song....Lucky enough for you, all of the PRINE fans like me, gave you the benefit of the doubt..... and we were TRULY rewarded... could you maybe be selling Slaid short???? How could a man like you, my Patton, not see the genius in "Green Mountains and Me"??? I just can't wrap my brain around that? You know when the hubble was launched jin 1990... people laughed.. they gave it exactly a moment before they judged it futile... we now know that it came down to a 1.3 mm miscalculation... where are our astronauts now??? 19 years later??? Basically they are changing out the bulbs on the vision that lived up to the hype... People who listened only briefly...( like, 30 seconds) judged the hubble as fluff... "so-so".... with time to prove its worth...it has.. Slaid Cleaves is THAT kind of artist... to have you deem his work "so-so" when I love your work like I love his...baffles me. Mr. Prine, with all due respect, it would not be any fun if they all fell over with thier feet in the air now would it??? Hey, "hide the pain while the rain makes up my mind... my feet are wet from thinking this thing over....." these are the kind of lyrics that matter more than the mindless "honky-tonk bedonkeyCRAP fed to the masses via media.....it takes a while for the true GEMS to grow on you....(feet in the air... all Im saying.....sir ) if I hadnt given you more than a few rushed moments I would have missed out on what is arguably my favorite song..... I just need to know that you REALLY gave Slaid the attention he deserves....because your opinion really matters to me... and because I see the same genius in Slaid that I have always recognized in YOU.... Much Love..... JBJ..."no disclaimers".. .....sir!!!
Slaid Cleaves  05/08/2009            
NO DISCLAIMERS
I was introduced to this artist during an intense night of emotional roulette...I fell in love with "Don't tell me" and "Lydia" instantly.. My passion for Slaid's music (ahem!) burned hotter when I heard "Unsung".. although he did not write these songs... he damn sure made them his own. "Flowered Dresses" was merely common until he spun it Slaid style. We all have our reasons.. mine? I played this for my daddy (yeah, southern girl's say daddy) ... he blinked hard and told me about riding a trolleycar with HIS daddy in 1953... AND how he had to jump off it cause my irish grandfather was drunk and pissed!! AND that THIS song brought to mind his mother...AND how much I reminded him of her... (Karen, many thanks.. he had NEVER shared this with me before...) Any true fan of this "fogelberg'ish" poet (YEAH... I SAID IT!!!) has just given a nod while recalling the lines, "I was sitting in the hallway on the night he left...huggin' my knees...holding my breath, I was never sure why but he was damn sure gone... thought it was maybe my fault.." No offense, Karen.. but even you would have to admit...we all fell in love a little.. I have to agree with Mrs. Cleaves when it comes to "Getaway Car"... as beautifully as he sings it.. I love Michael O'Conner's version even better. If you have never had the true pleasure of seeing Slaid LIVE with Michael... you have truly missed out..."Pot/kettle/perfection..." These are the kind of friends who would "lie... convincingly" for each other.. magic. This release has been a long wait for Slaid fans. "Green Mountains and Me" is pure slaid genius...somehow he added all of the elements of a 100 year old folk song (Lydia) and still managed to give it a modern twist...a twist that is lost on NOONE....) As usual, you will be blown away by some spot on lyrics.... in "Beyond Love" you wonder if it its an ode to teenage love o a "spend a lifetime working it out" disclaimer??? Brilliance shines thru with the line..." Dusty bedside table lamp shines light on what is lost..." Are you kidding me???? Amazing. He just summed up every "sucked dry" teenage marriage that made it past the 15 year mark although they can't recognize any part of the person they gave the gift of those years to. (But they would damn sure give them a kidney). Slaid, rest easy.. this collection is MORE than worthy. Your old fans are once again reminded of the genius that hooked them to begin with...your new fans are in bewildered awe.. as they should be...welcome to the party, pal....
Slaid Cleaves  04/27/2009            
Dan Flynn
This is a fantastic album that is Slaid's best. "A beautiful thing" Is perhaps the greatest song ever written
Slaid Cleaves  04/23/2009            
John Prine
soso
Slaid Cleaves  07/01/2007            
hop
I caught my first Slaid Cleeves show at Cheatham St. in San Marcos and this guy just keeps getting better and better. I recently purchased his album Wishbones and was very impressed. This guy is like 40yr old scotch, f***ing smooth!
Slaid Cleaves  06/23/2007            
texasboy430
I caught Slaid last night at the granada in dallas. this was not the first time seeing slaid, i saw him 1 time befor at TMR 6 years ago. since then i only had the album broke down, and i played the s h i t out of it. so seeing him last night after my tast in music matured and knowing what to look for in music and song writing, was AMAZING. it was a freekin religious moment. he has come full circle. it was like seeing the jim morison of country songwriting. the guy has it all. he should have a disclaimer....WARNING: DONT LISTEN TO UNLESS PLANING TO GET ADDICTED!!!
Slaid Cleaves  08/27/2006            
MRS. JOSIE WALES
SAW THE SHOW IN KANSAS CITY THIS MONTH.... AMAZING! I STARTED JONES'N ON SLAID CLEAVES A FEW MONTHS AGO AFTER THIS INCREDIBLE NIGHT OF EMOTIONAL ROULETTE WITH A DAMN GOOD FRIEND WHO PLAYED SLAID ALL NIGHT LONG. SLAID'S MUSIC COVERS EVERY MOOD YOU MIGHT BE SWINGIN:"DEVIL'S LULLABY" "CALL IT SLEEP" "OH, ROBERTA".ITS ALL GOOD! CHECK OUT HIS OLDER STUFF TOO. "DON'T TELL ME" IS MY FAVORITE MELANCHOLY BABY. THE LYRICS ARE SO RAW IT HURTS.GET THE CD,GET HOOKED THEN PASS IT ON.. THANKS AGAIN FRIEND. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.. "..RUNAWAY LOCOMOTIVE OUT OF HIS ONE TRACK MIND.."
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