That may not be the most exciting headline ever printed for a Now Playing
column, but fans of Slaid Cleaves will find the news thrilling enough. Not only
does Cleaves hold an avid fan base in Springfield, more than five years have
elapsed since the release of Wishbones, his last recording of self-penned tunes.
Cleaves, or Slaid as he is known to family, friends and fans alike, is a Maine native who moved to Austin, Texas, in 1991 to pursue his songwriter muse and to fulfill a dream of making a living playing music. He succeeded well in both goals, known all around as a consistently good, effective and touching songwriter and performer.
In 1992 he won the prestigious Kerrville, Texas Folk Festival New Folk
songwriting competition, then proceeded to play the highly respected Austin
songwriter scene for several years. In 1997 he debuted nationally on
Rounder/Philo Records with No Angel Knows and scored Americana chart success in 2000 with Broke Down. In 2004 he gave us Wishbones and 2006 brought Unsung, a collection of songs written by other songwriters done Slaid-style. He
remained on the major independent label until his most recent release in 2009
of Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away.
This latest endeavor is a slight departure from a typical Slaid Cleaves record in both content and distribution. He recently hooked up with fellow Austin transplant and Oklahoma native Jimmy LaFave in a co-op type enterprise of fellow music people called Music Roads Records. The idea is to keep more artistic and overall career control by working the marketing and selling end of the music business as well as the writing and performing area. It seems to fit well into Slaid’s way of working at an even pace and for his own ideals of improving artistically while creating a lifestyle supportive of a working artist.
If there ever was a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach to making it, Slaid gets the prize for his modest, workmanlike attitude toward the normally nasty world of show business. The ability to calmly continue in a forward progression becomes obvious in the design of his latest recording.
“I tried to grow a little on this one artistically and didn’t want to repeat myself and bore my audience,” he said. “The record is more interpersonal stories than historical dramas. I leaned on the
personal, emotional side for this recording.”
By all accounts the lyric and melodic direction of Everything propels the listener toward what Cleaves called “moving people” and that’s what he wanted to accomplish in making the recording “effective.” He used Gurf Morlix, the roots rock producer of Cleaves’ earlier records and those of Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen, and kept his no-surprises, easy listening (in a good way) approach to making a nice sounding, all around, well received testimony of his music.
Cleaves stays busy on the road playing a mix of bars, festivals, theaters, house concerts and assorted other venues in a well-regulated booking system handily run by his wife, Karen. He recently went out to Colorado and now is making a Midwest run on his way to Canada. October finds him touring Ireland and England and other parts of Europe.
“That’s how I make my living,” he calmly replies, when I asked him about being on the road so much. “Musicians don’t retire, they just keep playing. There’s no retirement fund.”
Springfield does hold a special place in this singing traveler’s heart. A few years ago during a performance at the now-defunct Underground
City Tavern, the crowd began singing lyrics to Slaid songs and knew all the
words in a stunning show of fan loyalty and appreciation.
“I don’t understand how that happened, but it was a special show in Springfield that
night,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing if they’ve learned the words to all the new songs yet.”
Contact Tom Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.