5 May 2017
An Evening with Slaid Cleaves
Slaid Cleaves’s very sparse story: grew up in Maine; lives in Texas; writes songs; makes records; travels around; tries to be good. The music of the Austin-based artist is rooted in country and traditional folk songs, but it is unusual enough to have held interest in a sea of singer-songwriters across the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s — as you will see at the Me&Thee Coffeehouse on May 5th.
Concert starts at 8:00 pm.
It isn’t everyone who can claim to have Stephen King as a fan. King once wrote the liner notes for a Slaid CD: “I’m glad I found Slaid Cleaves, because my life would have been poorer without him. You’ll feel the same, I think, when you listen to this beautifully crafted album. Listen, go to one of Slaid’s shows, take a friend, and pass on the news: not all the good guys wear hats.” Slaid Cleaves spins stories with a novelist’s eye and a poet’s heart. 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.”
While Slaid released a handful of recordings during the early ’90s, he gained significant notice with No Angel Knows, which was released on Rounder’s Philo subsidiary in 1997. The album rode high into the charts at Americana-formatted radio stations around the U.S. and Canada. The release set the tone for the rest of his career. Prior to entering the music industry, Cleaves majored in English and philosophy at Tufts University in his native New England, and began playing music in garage rock bands while still in high school. While in college, he learned guitar, and later spent a summer in Ireland. He began busking on the streets in Cork, and that was the turning point when he decided to become a folksinger.
After many years in Portland, Maine, he sought new mountains to climb, and found some of them after moving to Austin, Texas, in 1992. In 1995, he recorded an independent album entitled Life’s Other Side. During the following decade, Cleaves released Broke Down (2000) and Wishbones (2004) prior to switching to Rounder proper for Unsung (2006). After signing with Music Road label, he issued Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (2009, featuring the aforementioned liner notes from Stephen King), the two-disc Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge (2011), and Still Fighting the War (2013). The title song of the latter album was inspired by Craig F. Walker’s Pulitzer-winning photo essay regarding a soldier’s postwar civilian life.
Cleaves delivers equal measures of hope and resignation throughout his CD 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.”
- I’m glad I found Slaid Cleaves, because my life would have been poorer without him. You’ll feel the same, I think, when you listen to this beautifully crafted album Listen, go to one of Slaid’s shows, take a friend, and pass on the news: Not all the good guys wear hats. Stephen King
- A sharply observant songwriter with a deep appreciation for the ageless fundamentals of folk, country, and rock . . . one of the country’s most compeling roots artists. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
- He phrases like a grafter trying to croon his low-down past away — and writes like he knows he never will. ‘I’ve been chasing grace but grace ain’t so easily found,’ he sings on One Good Year, just one of the many subtle momentary stays against the dark side of his heart. That heart doesn’t bleed easily — but when it does, it bleeds true. Roy Kasten, River Front Times, St. Lous