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Slaid Cleaves

Still Fighting the War (Road Music)

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., June 14, 2013

Texas Platters

Slaid Cleaves

Still Fighting the War (Music Road)

Close up the honky-tonks. Shut down the open mics. Austin's Slaid Cleaves returns to show all who attempt the singer-songwriter thing how it's done. Not only is Still Fighting the War his most political work ever, in many ways he echoes the socio-political commentary of James McMurtry and Bruce Springsteen. What differentiates our man Cleaves from other writers remains his ability to get his messages over in distinctly understated ways. There's songwriting genius in "Gone," the tale of a couple's love from youth to senility in just about three minutes. In fact, it's the unpretentious nature of a composition such as "Gone" that may well keep him from a larger audience, while at the same time demanding exactly that – mass consumption. That and songs delving deep into struggle and pain without flinching. As marked by the album moniker, the title track fearlessly deals with an Iraq War veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's heady stuff, but there are lighthearted moments as well, notably a duet with Terri Hendrix on "Texas Love Song," which travels from "the Mucky Duck to the Broken Spoke" with "Robert Earl and Billy Joe." A couple of the composer's beloved mentors, Don Walser and Woody Guthrie, are paid affectionate tribute with the countrified "God's Own Yodeler" and woeful folk rock of "Rust Belt Fields," respectively. More than 20 years into his career, Slaid Cleaves just keeps getting better; more refined and confident. There are few contemporaries that compare. He's become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine. (CD Release: Friday, June 14, Cactus Cafe)

****

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