October 5, 2002

Grew up in Maine. Lives in Texas. Writes songs. Makes records. Travels around. Tries to be good. Was!

— Slaid Cleaves —

Slaid Cleaves ased out of Austin, Texas, this excellent young singer/songwriter creates simple country-folk arrangements that paint bleak landscapes dotted with broken dreams and broken-down cars. He paints straightforward tales of love wasted and love lost, songs of despair — and songs of hope.

t tonight's concert, Slaid was joined by two fine band members and lived up to all the accolades he has received. He thrilled our packed audience with his music and his charm.

t's hard to resist Cleaves' rough-hewn yet lyrical approach to his storytelling, backed only by the most spare instrumentation — no frills here, only what needs to be.

is music owes its grit, guts, and gusto to the dusty byways of his adopted home of Texas, Slaidís South Berwick, Maine upbringing has given him an unshakeable Yankee work ethic. Heís concentrated endlessly on his songwriting, singing, guitar picking, van repair, etc. to get where he is today, taking no opportunity for granted.

laid Cleaves started his career by singing to anyone who would listen. His first stage: the streets of Cork, Ireland, where he was attending college in 1985. While passers-by tossed pence and occasional Irish pound notes into his guitar case, he grew into a stronger and more confident performer. Upon returning to New England, he put together the Moxie Men, a tight three-piece that drew from roots-rock, punk, country, and folk influences to become regional favorites. They even placed as a semi-finalist in Musician Magazineís Best Unsigned Band competition, but by 1991, Slaid was feeling confined by the self-contained New England music scene. So he headed south ...

ustin, Texas is the perfect place for Cleavesí music. Long the center of a rich roots-music revival, Austinís taut mixture of creativity and competition spurned him to write, sing, and perform as often as he could, wherever he could. No coward when it comes to a little effort, Slaid used the demands of Austin to his favor: his singing and stage presence became more natural, while his songwriting became deeper, more visceral, economical, and immediate.

Slaid Cleaves n May of 1992, he took a trip to the legendary Kerrville Folk Festival and drove home with the top prize in the prestigious New Folk competition. Past winners include Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, and Robert Earl Keen, Jr. Cleaves then kept writing songs and singing them, gaining a little more with each performance — all the while, he took advantage of Austinís rich music scene and found mentors in great musicians and songwriters like Gurf Morlix and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

e signed with Rounder Records, and in 1997 produced No Angel Knows, which enjoyed phenomenal national success and put Slaid on the road for nearly 2 years. The road has its lessons, and amidst the scenery, isolation, and toil that traveling presents to a musician, Cleaves found the inspiration for a new set of songs. A set of songs that stared desperation and struggle straight in the eye. A set of songs that became Broke Down in January of 2000, his latest full album.

ut Broke Down is not a depressing album — the soaring quality in Slaidís melodies and the clever hand of returning producer Gurf Morlix keep it from being one-dimensional. Rather, itís a resonant exploration of timeís effect on trust, the erosion of relationships, and how people deal with isolation. Slaidís characters are tormented, but something keeps them going. Perhaps itís the same thing that keeps Slaid Cleaves going.

f you weren't here, you missed some truly memorable magic tonight.

Praises for his performances:

  • "The beguiling Cleaves has fashioned a timeless yet fresh sound rooted in the best storytelling tradition of the great singer-songwriter."
      The Chicago Sun Times

  • "One of the finest singer-songwriters from Texas"
      New York Times

  • "(An) artist in excellent form. He is assured and confident in his singing and songs, and the album (Broke Down) has been crafted to fit him as well as a favorite pair of jeans."
      Sing Out!

Link to his web site