Slaid Cleves stays the course of true country, folk
BY TRICIA DESPRES For Sun-Times Media October 17, 2013 11:30AM
Slaid Cleves | PHOTO BY KAREN CLEVES
8 p.m. Oct. 17
FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn
Updated: October 17, 2013 12:36PM
For someone who has spent over 20 years combining music notes with thought-provoking lyrics, singer/songwriter Slaid Cleaves has a tough time articulating just what he hates so much about today’s country music.
Or, so he says.
“I really don’t know what to say,” remarks Cleaves, breathing a heavy sigh. “I guess I just can’t stand thatbigger-than-life, good ol’ boy kind of country music. It’s all pretty cheesy if you ask me. Whenever I accidently come across any nationally recognized music, it turns my stomach pretty much. All the videos are sexed up with people just trying to push buttons and get people all riled up. I have a friend who writes for a living in Nashville, and he tells me that last season it was all about banjos and now it’s all about tailgates and trucks. He tells me you got to hit those notes if you ever want to get your song cut. I mean, c’mon.”
And just when it sounds as if the lyricist has said enough, the Texan says more.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the craft, and sometimes you can just tell that if a particular song had been done acoustically, it could have worked. There are well-crafted songs out there. I don’t know. Let’s just say I am very comfortable being on the tiniest little fringe of country music these days.”
To be more precise, Cleaves describes himself as a “folksy singer songwriter at the end of the Americana spectrum” who, at 49, finds himself feeling pretty darn “invincible” these days. Currently at the end of a four-month-long tour to support his new album “Still Fighting the War,” Cleaves says he is finds himself as the bearer of the best reviews and audience reaction since the release of his break-out album “Broke Down,” which came out 13 years ago.
“Sometimes albums work and sometimes albums don’t,” says Cleaves, who mother grew up in Evanston. “With [“Still Fighting the War”], it’s been really cool to get feedback from the stage. For example, I’ve been playing ‘Texas Love Song’ for the past year and I knew from the beginning it would be a big hit in Texas. But as I have made my annual trek from Texas to Maine, it’s interesting to see that the song has the same effect pretty much everywhere.”
Cleaves says the new album also shows that with age, his songs and his voice continue to evolve.
“My voice used to be a bit higher and thinner, but it’s getting a bit more dark and deeper,” he says. “And in terms of writing, it takes more time than ever before. I will pick away at a song and then put it away for a day or a week or a year sometimes. It’s kind of like a crossword puzzle. When you put it away long enough, you usually can open it up and the solution will finally come to you.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.