Slaid Cleaves Broke Down (Philo)

Texas Platters

Record Reviews

Slaid Cleaves

Broke Down (Philo)

Well that settles it. Slaid Cleaves, with a big assist from his producer and jack-of-all-trades musician, Gurf Morlix, has supplied us with the first great Austin album of the 21st century. Cleaves' last Philo release, No Angel Knows, showed a great deal of promise and had many critics comparing him to the likes of fellow Texans Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe Shaver, and Steve Earle. Broke Down is in another league altogether. Cleaves' talent for drawing pictures with words has matured eloquently and with startling beauty. He still writes of people down on their luck, the lovelorn and the lost, yet presents them in wide screen; you know these people, you've passed them on the street. There's the tale of love gone astray down at the "Horseshoe Lounge," the worn-down soul pleading for "One More Year," and the tale of Sandy Gray, a proud Canadian logger who ends up eating "Breakfast in Hell." One of the more intriguing tunes is "This Morning I Am Born Again," a poem from Pastures of Plenty, Woody Guthrie's book of previously unpublished songs, stories, and letters. With the permission of Guthrie's daughter Nora, the woman behind the Wilco/Billy Bragg collaboration Mermaid Avenue, Slaid adds a bluesy melody and sings it with soul and laid-back charm that does justice to the song's spiritual nature. Sonically, Broke Down shares a lot with some of Morlix's work with Lucinda Williams. No surprise, really, given that Cleaves and Williams travel the same dusty road. Morlix imbues each song with a flawless sheen of guitars that twang and jangle, understated drums, and bits of organ to fill the empty spaces with just the right touch of color. From now on, Cleaves may be likened to some of his heroes, but Broke Down shows he stands on his own.


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Review: Johanna Heilman, <i>When We Were Electric</i>
Review: Johanna Heilman, When We Were Electric
When We Were Electric (Record Review)

Doug Freeman, June 30, 2023

Review: Large Brush Collection & Creekbed Carter Hogan, <i>Split</i>
Review: Large Brush Collection & Creekbed Carter Hogan, Split
Tape of tender lullabies envisions a warm refuge for queer people

Wayne Lim, May 12, 2023

More by Jim Caligiuri
Carrie Elkin’s Life-and-Death Folk
Carrie Elkin’s Life-and-Death Folk
Her father's death and daughter's birth upped the stakes of the singer's finest work

April 14, 2017

SXSW Music Live: Richard Barone Presents Greenwich Village in the Sixties
SXSW Music Live: Richard Barone Presents Greenwich Village in the Sixties
Soft Boys, Youngbloods, Moby Grape, Brian Jones’ grandson, etc.

March 18, 2017


Slaid Cleaves

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle