musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

One of the most impressive purveyors of country music nowadays, at least to my ears, is Slaid Cleaves. If you are like some people who automatically dismiss modern country music as formulistic drivel, it’s time for a reappraisal, at least in this case. Slaid Cleaves sings well-crafted tunes that are bursting with melody, intelligence, and passion. It’s not the bland contemporary country that dominates today’s charts, nor is it retro hillbilly fare. If I had to compare him to anyone, I might throw out John Prine and Guy Clark as kindred musical spirits, and yet Cleaves has his own distinct sound. Cleaves grew up in Maine, not exactly known as a hotbed of country music, so he moved to Austin, Texas in the early 1990s, whereupon he began to establish himself as a first-rate singer-songwriter and performer.

slaidcleavesLIVE 

By my count he’s now released eight studio albums, with last year’s Still Fighting the War ranking among his very best. That album boasted yet more fine songs that pack an emotional wallop, all propelled by Cleaves’ stirring vocals. Recently I picked up a 2-CD concert set that he recorded in 2010 and released the following year, Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge. As good as his studio albums are, and they are mighty fine indeed, I think this live set might be the best thing I’ve heard by him yet. Perhaps it’s due to playing in front of a live audience, but Cleaves sounds both relaxed and confident, reeling off well-known songs (at least well-known to his fans!) from his older albums, throwing in a few new tunes (which appear on later albums), and doing a couple of heartfelt covers of songs by the beloved Don Walser, “the Pavarotti of the Plains”, as Cleaves dubs him. Those songs, punctuated by some impressive yodeling by Cleaves, are among the album’s standouts. Plus, the banter between him and the audience is quite entertaining. After admitting that it took him several years to work up the courage to enter the seemingly seedy Horseshoe Lounge, a member of the crowd later playfully heckles him, yelling out: “Afraid to come in here, were you?”

slaidcleaves_stillfighting 

If you buy the CD, one of bonuses that come with it are two “Slaid Cleaves Live at the Horseshoe Lounge” beer coasters! That’s a nice touch, further giving the listener the feeling that they were right there in the lounge that night, a cold beer in hand, enjoying this most intimate and entertaining of shows. Well worth a listen!

Meanwhile, as rainy season entrenches itself here in Thailand, these are the other albums offering me comfort and happiness, and maybe a jig around the living room:

toriymoi 

Tori Y Moi – Anything in Return

Real Estate – Atlas

Various Artists – Street Sounds from the Bay Area: Music City Funk & Soul Grooves 1971-75

Walter Egan – Myth America

Gregory Porter – Liquid Spirit

buckowens  

Buck Owens – Buck ‘Em: 1955-1967

Melvin Sparks – Legends of Acid Jazz

Aimee Mann – I’m With Stupid

Crabby Appleton – Crabby Appleton

Andy Kim – Baby I Love You/Andy Kim

Tunji Oyelana 

Tunji Oyelana – A Nigerian Retrospective: 1966-79

Various Artists – The Message: Soul, Funk and Jazzy Groove from Mainstream Records

Low – I Could Live in Hope

Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream

The Grass Roots – The Complete Original Dunhill/ABC Singles

newcomers 

The Newcomers – Mannish Boys: The Stax & Volt Recordings 1969-74

Black Keys – Turn Blue

Various Artists – Steppin’ Stone: The XL and Sounds of Memphis Story, Volume 3

Capital Cities – In a Tidal Wave of Mystery

Joe Simon – The Sounds of Simon/Simon Country

impressions_three 

The Impressions – Three the Hard Way/First Impresssions

Robert Cray – In My Soul

The 8th Day – The 8th Day/I’ve Gotta Get Home

Lone Justice – This is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes 1983

The Peddlers – How Cool is Cool: The Complete CBS Recordings

bloodorange 

Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

Caesar Frazier – Hail Caesar/’75: The Eastbound Sides

Mike Viola & the Candy Butchers – Falling Into Place

The Figgs – Lo-Fi at Society High

Joe Henderson Quintet- At the Lighthouse

bambaramysticsoul 

Various Artists – Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkino Faso 1974-1979

Prince Philip Mitchell – Top of the Line

Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day

Nick Heyward – Tangled

Scott Walker – The Collection

towerofpower  

Tower of Power – Hipper Than Hip: Live on the Air & in the Studio 1974

Game Theory – Tinker to Evers to Chance

Shark Move – Shark Move

Sid Selvidge – The Cold of Morning

Graham Gouldman – And Another Thing

 

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