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Maine, New England-raised and now living in Austin, Texas singer-songwriter recording act Slaid Cleaves keeps his music and songs simple. His music has changed little over the years. Nothing fancy, just good observations - stories supported by some terrific playing; this time it is from John Chipman (drums, percussion), Scrappy Jud Newcomb (electric, acoustic guitar, harmony vocals), Kevin Smith (upright bass), Chojo Jacques (fiddle, mandolin) and David Boyle (keyboards) plus Miles Zuniga (vocals on “So Good To Me”). Newcomb also produces the album, and what a fine job he does; something he will use over the years on his resume.
Here, Cleaves has a larger than ever quota of co-writes with his good buddy, fellow singer-songwriter Rod Picott. Friends from school days the boys have kept in touch, and when time allowed continued to bond ever tighter through their ability to collectively write essential songs. Cleaves’ music when I first heard it in 1997 (No Angel Knows; it like Ghost On The Radio likewise contains no less than four co-writes with Picott) energised me, and though in recent times the effect has become less crucial. But I can honestly say Ghost On The Car Radio offers something equal to those glory days. Once I had heard it a couple or so times the strength of the songs hit home (the melodies are likewise excellent). The fluency and swagger of old is present, the free rolling love of life, and on it tempered with hints of sadness as he reflects on the state of the world and prospects that await us. But even on the occasions he is found searching for the meaning of it all there is much grace and beauty. And.., there are also hints of mystery to some of his finest tales.
“Drunken Barber’s Hand” (a terrific Picott co-write), “Hickory” (co-write with Nathan Hamilton it is a superb piece of story-telling) and “The Old Guard (wow! This is what some would call mint) as he speaks of some of country music of old. With an excellent line in picking, the song a co-write with Mike Morgan and Jeff Elliott covers much ground, and how! I can fast see it fast becoming an established part of all Slaid Cleaves’ gigs. No excuses accepted. A greater homage to the country stars of old has never been recorded. Other top tracks include tender ballad “If I Had A Heart” and a bubbly gem written with a friend of longstanding Karen Poston, “Little Guys”. A song about how the little guys are as long has been the case losing out to the larger corporations, many of whom are little other than bullies. Banks included. There’s more too as he edges, carefully, through “To Be Held”; and with a chugging rhythm moody piece “Still Be Mine” (co-writer with Graham Weber) as he reflects on how he was once going to set the world on fire. Apart from the modest “So Good To Me” there isn't a relatively weak track.
Others written with Picott include “Take Home Pay” (more prime blue-collar story-telling as the man in the story hits rock bottom), “Primer Gray” (a brooding reflective piece) and the closing track “Junkyard” are all top quality. Maybe, just maybe they might get together one day soon to make a record together. How about it boys?
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