Written by James Killen
Jun 01, 2013 at 12:01 AM
ImageIt’s been four years since the release of “Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away” and high time for another Slaid Cleaves collection of stories and laments. “Still Fighting the War” is due out in mid-June, but if you have been lucky enough to see him in the last week or two (the Wildflower Festival, for instance), Slaid has had a few cases of pre-release discs available. That’s an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

Cleaves has earned the reputation for writing songs about sad situations in life, social injustices and regrets for unfortunate decisions that we all make. The performance at the festival gave a peak to the audience of what we would find on “Still Fighting the War”. Scrappy Jud Newcomb, who was playing guitar lead for the show, was revealed to be the primary producer for the disc as well as a big contributor on guitars and keyboards. Lloyd Maines produced and played on two of the tunes and two others were produced by Mark Hallman.

One thing that came out of the song selection for the show was that there were a number of upbeat and even humorous numbers on the upcoming disc. He told the story that Don Walser once said to him after a show, “Boy you sure can make ‘em cry! You need to learn to make ‘em grin, too.” There seems to be that effort on “Still Fighting the War”.

The opening number and title track, “Still Fighting the War” broaches the looming issue of returning veterans and PTSD. Jimmy LaFave contributes harmony vocals and Scrappy Jud lay down some tasty lead guitar licks. “Without Her” is a ballad of lost love in the tradition of Slaid Cleaves sadness.

“Rust Belt Fields” rues the loss of jobs to outsourcing and the gradual extinction of the blue collar middle class. Lines like, “No one remembers your name just for working hard”, are accented by Newcomb’s plucky guitar and ominous keyboard work. In a more traditional country tune, ”Hometown, USA”, Cleaves sings the stories of small town folk that had ventured out into the world to chase their dreams only to be bounced back home with dreams dashed.

“Gone” is one of the tunes produced by Mark Hallman and has a simpler folksy sound, again about lost love. “Welding Burns” is a tribute to his father as a working man and has a hammer like percussion line that makes you think of a construction site. “I’ll Bet She Does” is about having gotten over an old love and features a solid hook with the title line in the refrain.

So after seven sad tunes Cleaves finally lays down one of those upbeat songs that he’d promised. He dedicated “Whim of Iron” to a lady he had known in New England that would take on a project or an issue that no one else would and stick with it until she was finished, while “friends would roll their eyes”.

“Texas Love Song” is set to make you grin as Slaid professes his love for his lady as greater than his love for the Lone Star State. He sets out a list of all of the great things that he loves about Texas, including the Mucky Duck in the same breath with the Broken Spoke. This one was produced by Lloyd Maines and features Terri Hendrix on Harmony vocals. It’s followed immediately by the other Maines production, “God’s Own Yodeler”, a tribute to Don Walser that features some pretty fair yodeling on Slaid’s part.

So much for the happy songs as Cleaves lays out a bluesy number, “In the Rain”, with Mark Hallman adding some crying guitar and Eliza Gilkyson chipping in some harmony vocals. “Go for the Gold” is a country gospel song entreating the listener to forgo wealth and pride in favor of the golden rule.

“Voice of Midnight” ends the disc with a glimpse of the coming end of life with a bittersweet last wish, accentuated by an ethereal guitar from Scrappy Jud.

If you are a Slaid Cleaves fan, his website is taking preorders for signed copies of his CD. If you are not a Slaid Cleaves fan, give a few of these tunes a listen and you may find out that you want to be.