This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 1/00
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Never thought it could be done. Someone out Eaglesmithing Fred J. Eaglesmith. But Slaid Cleaves' latest release does it. For those hardy enough to hitch a ride, Cleaves transports them into the netherworld of busted dreams, gut-wrenching losses, perilous relationships, faint and false hopes. If it hurts, it's here. Sometimes he detours just short of the Gates of Hell but, more often than not, he plows on past, busting through Hades Gates like a heat-seeking missile.
Those populating his songs are people who need "real life" insurance, that non-existent policy protecting against the vagaries and vicissitudes of a life manifested and exacerbated by poor decisions, foolish whims and, sometimes, the cold blackness of inexplicable tragedies and calamities.
The lot in life for Cleaves' characters is one of grist for the grinder, however blindly or heroically battling their inexorable doom. These are not a dim-witted people, rather their peculiar blindness conceals the blows hurtling towards their pummeled and buffeted existence, leaving them often bewildered by events and outcomes.
Cleaves opens his primarily acoustic release with "Broke Down," a brooding, melancholy cut about two forlorn lovers. His verses go:
Billy took the ring, jammed it in his pocket
Drove downtown and tried to hawk it
Down at the bottom of Lake Ponchartrain
There's a love note carved inside a wedding ring...
Baby in the back seat and another on the way
Sherry thinks of Billy at the end of every day
Spends her nights waiting for real life to start
Listening to the sound of her double-crossed heart...
On the other side of town two lovers lie still
Cigarette smoking on a window sill
There's a picture locked up in an old suitcase
Billy closes his eyes but he still sees her face..."
It's a bitter wind
In your face every day
It's the little sins
That wear your soul away
When you start giving in
Where do the promises all go
Will your darkest hour
Write a blank check on your soul?
Just give me one good year
To get my feet back on the ground
I've been chasing grace
But grace ain't so easily found
One bad hand can devil a man
A good one can turn him around
I gotta get out of here
Just give me one good year"
Cold and lonely
The winter hills were bare
She's got blood in her hair
Called the doctor
But the doctor says she'll die
Cold and lonely
One more kiss goodbye
The Bible says you'll reap what you sow
I gave everything I had
Got nothing left to show
Cold and lonely
Time drifting by
Wind is spinning
Taking souls up to the sky
But I won't be there
Just cover my bones
And sing me a little prayer"
"Bring It On" is an acceptance-of-fate cut, with a defiant tone. The verses speak of acquiescence, the chorus of recalcitrance:
Once I dreamed of riches, of happiness untold
Now hopes lie scattered, trash along a lonesome road
But I don't ask for mercy, it just don't work that way
Today I'm down but hope will rise another day...
All those little dreams that never came to be
Well I keep your every teardrop down inside of me
And as I watch you sleeping I hope you still dream
'Cause lately when I wake up I don't feel anything..."
She lives in the old place all alone
Keeps in touch with neighbors by the phone
Grows roses upon the graves of her first born and his father
And the coal trucks never bothered her...
A cotton dress and satin shoes
Indian summer sun, dressed in amber hues
Spending time with a coal-miner's son
To an old-time fiddle tune
The months blew by just like a breeze that year
They wed in June and by the fall the boy was here
Word come down from big stone, there's a fire in the mine
And eleven men they couldn't find
She watched them pull him from the hole
The overalls he wore were blackened by the smoke
Lydie twice had had this dream and twice it had come true
And when she saw his father's boots she knew..."
Cleaves on vocals and acoustic guitar is backed by Ivan Brown on upright bass and background vocals; Mark Cousins on drums; Gurf Morlix on electric guitar, bass, octafone, claves, six string bass, bongos, acoustic lap steel guitar, high strung guitar, mandolin, tambourine, Magnus organ and background vocals; Ian McLagen on hammond organ; Chris Searles on drums and tambourine; Charles Arthur on lap steel guitar and electric guitar; Janek Siegele on lead acoustic guitar and vocals; Paul Sweeney on mandolin; Laura Nadeau on vocals; and Darcie Deaville and Karen Poston on background vocals
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