A Review of the CD
"Broke Down"
by Slaid Cleaves

"Broke Down"
by Slaid Cleaves

Copyright 2000 Philo 11671-1225-2
Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

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:

"One Good Year" follows, a plaintive plea for a brief respite from a bad run: In the quietly chilling "Cold and Lonely," eerily backed by electric guitar and lap steel guitar, Cleaves draws in the listener with his flat vocals. He sings: The invigorating "Breakfast In Hell" offers a temporary break in bleakness, albeit a tale of the life and, yes, death of larger-than-life lumberjack Sandy Gray. Cleaves also performs an engaging version of Woody Guthrie's mystical tale of resilience "This Morning I Am Born Again." A nice touch is Cleaves' use of vocal harmonies on the choruses in Del McCoury's "I Feel The Blues Moving In." Hank Williams immediately comes to mind with the opening of "Key Chain."

"Bring It On" is an acceptance-of-fate cut, with a defiant tone. The verses speak of acquiescence, the chorus of recalcitrance:

Cleaves' chorus goes: "Lydia" is the most heart-rendering song on this release. Cleaves' interpretation of Karen Poston's lyrics say it all: The chorus: Despite the dour nature of his material, the quality of Cleaves' work leavens the bleakness, leaving the listener intoxicated with the outpourings of a burgeoning, remarkable talent, one who can write with the best.

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

Track List:

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