Slaid Cleaves will be performing at Susanna's Kitchen Coffeehouse on Thursday, January 21, 2016.
Cleaves' musical roots began playing in a high school garage band with his childhood friend Rod Picott. He brought his love of American artists like Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, CCR, and more with him to Cork, Ireland where he spent a semester of his junior year of college and learned how to play the songs on guitar. For a short time he performed as a busker, a street singer, in Cork City, Ireland.
Eventually Cleaves began to gain notice around Portland, Maine and in 1990 released his debut cassette, "The Promise." Only a few songs off this album, "Sweet Summertime", "Lonesome Highway" and "Wrecking Ball" are still occasionally played in concert.
"The Promise" was followed a year later by "Looks Good from the Road", recorded with his rock band, The Moxie Men. By the end of the year they were the darlings of the Portland press. However, Cleaves decided to focus on solo acoustic music and moved with his wife Karen to Austin, Texas in 1991. In 1992, he was a winner of the prestigious New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival, an award previously given to such artists as Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen and Steve Earle.
"Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away" (2009) is a lovingly crafted collection of songs written by some of Slaid Cleaves' favorite (if somewhat lesser known) fellow travelers on the troubadour road. Although Cleaves may never be confused with the infamously prolific Ryan Adams, his slow-and-steady-wins-the-race pace, not unlike that of Guy Clark, yields albums full of uncommonly fine-tuned songs built to stand the test of time.
To the long list of past road- and radio-proven Cleaves classics ("No Angel Knows," "Horseshoe Lounge," "Broke Down," "One Good Year," "New Year's Day," "Wishbones," "Drinking' Days," etc.), highlights from this album can be added - songs like "Hard to Believe," "Beyond Love," "Temporary" and especially the opening "Cry," from which the title for "Everything You Love" was taken.
"I think of that song as sort of a breakthrough," Cleaves says of "Cry," which from the very first listen jumps out as not only one of the most emotionally trenchant songs of his career, but also arguably one of his catchiest. "It's a bit more internal, personal."
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' (2013) 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."
Susanna's Kitchen is a monthly coffeehouse hosted by the Wimberley United Methodist Church, usually on the third Thursday of the month. Performances are in the WUMC fellowship hall and are open to the public. Tickets are available at the door, $20 for adults, $5 for children, childcare is available from 7 to 9 by prior arrangement (512-722-3316). Food served, including pizza, tamales, chips & queso, pie, coffee and soft drinks. Proceeds benefit Mother’s Day Out scholarships for low income working mothers.
Doors open at 7 PM, with music starting at 7:30. Susanna's Kitchen is a smoke-free, alcohol-free venue.