Although he’s plied his craft for the better part of 30 years now, it’s only been over the course of the past decade or so that Slaid Cleaves has come into his own. That’s aside from the fact that in 1992 he took home the prestigious New Folk Award from the Kerrville Folk Festival, the breeding ground for many an up-and-coming acoustic singer/songwriter. Nevertheless, he’s been making up for lost time in the last few years, and with the arrival of Still Fighting the War, Cleaves returns to the fore as a conquering hero, an eloquent performer clearly adept at his craft.
Indeed, he sounds like an old master these days, crafting material that would sound equally affecting if they came from the pen of Guy Clark, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Steve Earle, Alejandro Escovedo or any of several weathered and revered troubadours who blazed the path before him. Of course, having an A-list of artists to accompany him — label mate Jimmy Lafave, Eliza Gilkyson and Terri Hendrix all lend their services herein — certainly helps up the ante in and of itself, but the heartfelt commitment instilled in songs like the title track, “Gone,” “Rust Belt Fields” and “Hometown Hero” all but assures the presence of that dusty dynamic. Cleaves’ weathered reflections place the listener smack dab in the windblown cow towns that litter the West Texas environs Cleaves sings of with such eloquence and affection.
It’s there, in the land of honkytonks, where hope and heartbreak co-exist in equal measure, that Slaid Cleaves finds iconic inspiration.
DOWNLOAD: “Still Fighting the War,” “Gone,” “Hometown Hero”