Slaid Cleaves | FitzGerald's | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader

Slaid Cleaves Recommended Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Thu., Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m. 2009

Slaid Cleaves grew up in Maine, but given that he’s a sharply observant songwriter with a deep appreciation for the ageless fundamentals of folk, country, and rock, I suppose it was inevitable that he’d end up in Austin, Texas. Though he’s worked regularly with scene mainstays like guitarist and producer Gurf Morlix, who’s all over Cleaves’s new album, Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (Music Road), he’s always been something of a square peg in Austin, singing his unabashedly pretty melodies in a sweet voice that lacks the obligatory parched twang—but for the past decade and a half those same qualities have helped make him one of the country’s most compelling roots artists. Like Texas greats Steve Earle, Towns Van Zandt, and Guy Clark, Cleaves prefers to write about flawed or unfortunate souls, tenderly chronicling hopeless descents into misery, self-destruction, and death, often focusing on the small missteps that knock people off the rails—the drifter in “Tumbleweed Stew,” for instance, ends up a fugitive after hooking up with “a truckload of illegals / And a pocket full of cocaine.” In “Green Mountains and Me” Cleaves sings as a man who loses his wife in a war, which is pretty heavy subject matter to begin with, but then he adds a devastating turn in the last verse that casts his protagonist’s grief as something so crushing not even passersby can bear it: “People on the street used to stop and chat / Now they look down and walk on by.” —Peter Margasak

Price: $15

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