Ghost on the Car Radio (Proper)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., July 14, 2017
Slaid Cleaves feels the inevitable slide of time, but there's still beauty to behold in its passing. A master of simple melody and sharp lyrics, the veteran singer-songwriter captures every slight nuance in the setting sun even as Ghost on the Car Radio layers melancholic. Unlike the sociopolitical punch of 2013 standout Still Fighting the War, the Austinite's latest LP strikes more personal and passive. Opener "Already Gone" roars riffs like a road-worn take on the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care," and the dark shanty rhythm of "Drunken Barber's Hand" comes closest to addressing civics, but "If I Had a Heart" underlines the disc's reflective pull in the contrast between youthful idealism and aged realism. "Little Guys" thus unfolds classic Cleaves, mourning the loss of mom-and-pop endeavors to progress, while "Primer Gray" steels against modern "flash and shine" and "Hickory" declares, "They'll cut down the trees and name your new streets Hickory, Walnut, and Pine." Loosening up the backside, "So Good to Me" holds tightly to love with pop assistance from Fastball's Miles Zuniga, and Scrappy Jud Newcomb's touching guitar accents a gorgeous "To Be Held" and Graham Weber co-write "Still Be Mine." In closing, "Junkyard" bids a gruff-voiced lay-me-down-to-rust farewell, but even as the world decays, Ghost on the Car Radio will haunt your own personal Top 40.
CD release: Stateside at the Paramount, Sunday, July 16.