As a story telling songwriter, Slaid Cleaves is up there with the greats of his adopted home state Texas. Over the last decade a series of masterful albums have originated from the pen of Slaid who ventured south west from his Maine origins around twenty years ago and has also been keen to expand his horizons overseas with a multitude of visits to the listening venues of the UK. STILL FIGHTING THE WAR is another highly engaging collection of songs from the fiercely independent Slaid and over the course of its 45 minute duration, your mind will be enriched by an artistic exposure to some of the issues surrounding contemporary America.
While much of the album’s focus is on the opener and title track ‘Still Fighting the War’, where Slaid has teamed up with Texan legend Jimmy LaFave to tackle the thorny issue of post conflict trauma, attention is immediately drawn to two tracks co-written with Rod Picott. Both ‘Rust Belt Fields’ and ‘Welding Burns’ were originally standout tracks on Rod’s 2011 album named after the latter. With Slaid and Rod being long term friends from their shared north eastern background, it is no surprise that there is a strong nostalgic feel to these two songs. In fact the theme surrounding ‘Rust Belt Fields’ could almost be a soundtrack to the current economic dilemma facing the West with a drain of wealth and resource flowing uncontrollably towards the emerging world.
The collaborations arranged on this excellent album strengthened specific songs with Harmoni Kelley McCarty featuring on ‘Whim of Iron’ and the acclaimed Eliza Gilkyson adding value to ‘In the Rain’. One of the albums most ear pleasing tracks ‘Texas Love Song’ has a vocal contribution from Terri Hendrix and is a wonderful yet slightly quirky homage to the Lone Star State. Texas is also name checked in the follow on track ‘God’s Own Yodeller’, a vocal exercise which Slaid partakes in from time to time and thus immerses himself further in the musical culture of the west.
High spots from the remaining tracks include’Go for the Gold’, a delightful gospel effort which is drenched in an emotional and uplifting country sound and has the potential to become a popular staple of Slaid’s live shows. ‘Hometown USA’ gives you a pure dose of real deal Americana and invites you to peer into the world of destiny for its characters. However each of the thirteen tracks whether supported by simple acoustic or with a fuller band sound, carry the trademark lyrical excellence of Slaid and demand your unrelenting attention to soak up their comprehensive nature.
|Photo by Karen Cleaves|
There is no particular structure to this record and it will be equally effective on shuffle, although the closing ‘Voice of Midnight’ does have an exit feel to it. In fact you can mix and match any of Slaid’s recent releases and the seamless song writing strength will weave them all together in a concoction of real life imagery. STILL FIGHTING THE WAR is business as usual for Slaid Cleaves and you get the feeling there is still half a lifetime of well crafted perceptual songs still to come.
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