Singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves returns to Nevada City for a concert at the historic Odd Fellows Lodge on Wednesday, May 22 presented by Paul Emery.
Cleaves’ music is marked by both the quirky blend of isolated eccentricity and steely resilience of his Yankee upbringing and the weathered soul of Texas, the state he calls home. First registering on the national folk scene by winning the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk competition in 1992, Cleaves released his national debut No Angel Knows in 1997. Met with effusive critical praise, No Angel Knows was followed by Broke Down in 2000, which expanded his audience exponentially by virtue of its exceedingly well-crafted songs and rugged Gurf Morlix production. The title track won Song of the Year at the Austin Music Awards in 2001.
Following Broke Down came 2004’s Wishbones a richly detailed exploration of life’s darker corners where still a ray of hope somehow shines. Wishbones climbed to the top of the Americana Radio chart coming in at #1 for 2004 while Slaid toured relentlessly promoting the album. It was after the recording of Wishbones that Cleaves began to consider the endeavor that became Unsung. “Over the years,” Cleaves explains, “as I grew as a songwriter, my songs began to make up the bulk of my sets. But I continued to throw in the odd song by a hero or friend, both in my shows and on the records I made. I did that partly out of tribute to my influences, but also to give my set, or album, some context and some variety.”
Slaid Cleaves’ songwriting has never been more potent than on his most recent album Ghost on the Car Radio. The characters in Cleaves’ songs live in unglamorous reality. With an eye for the beauty in everyday life, he tells their stories, bringing a bit of empathy to their uncaring world.
Described as “terse, clear and heartfelt” (NPR Fresh Air), his songs speak to timeless truths. “I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” he says. “Songs are so accessible. You don’t need an education to fully appreciate them, you don’t need a lot of leisure time to spend on them, you don’t need to learn the language of song. We seem to be born with it,” Cleaves explains. “With no preparation at all, they can bring you to tears in a matter of seconds. I remember being three or four and getting a lump in my throat when I heard Hank Williams sing.”
Ghost on the Car Radio is Cleaves’ first release since 2013’s Still Fighting the War, which was praised as “one of the year’s best albums” by American Songwriter and “carefully crafted…songs about the struggles of the heart in hard times” by the Wall Street Journal. The New York Daily News called his music “a treasure hidden in plain sight,” while the Austin Chronicle declared, “there are few contemporaries that compare. He’s become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine.”
Content and photos submitted by Peter Wilson.