Back in July 2011 we reviewed Rod Picott’s fine album Welding Burns so it was a nice surprise to see that Slaid Cleaves revisits two of the best songs on that album (which he co-wrote with Picott) on his latest effort. We tagged Picott as a “blue collar” songwriter back then and Cleaves backs this up on an album that at times celebrates the working man while documenting the hardship and struggle faced by many Americans these days. Cleaves Does leaven the agony with a couple of more upbeat songs that reflect his current base of Texas but overall his viewpoint is as critical of the American way of life as Picott’s
He opens with the powerful title song, a hard bitten tale of a traumatised Afghanistan vet feeling lost and abandoned that rings with a righteous anger as chiming guitars push the song on. Rust Belt Fields stands proud as an indictment of corporate greed while Welding Burns positively burns (indeed) with a fiery indignation. In The Rain is a plaintive cry of desperation with some fine guitar work while Without Her is a gem of a love song as the singer drowns in his loss, the horn arrangements here adding a lonesome quality. I Bet She Does puts the shoe on the other foot as Cleaves avoids the unwanted advances of an ex and details her failings with a gorgeous arrangement that is simple and uncluttered, a simple song that speaks volumes.
It’s not all doom and gloom however as Cleaves adds a few more upbeat numbers that come straight from the heart of Texas.Texas Love Song bounces into sight with a sprightly Dobro soloing throughout while God’s Own Yodeller bounces into Flatlanders’ territory with some excellent pedal steel from Lloyd Maines. Dedicated to the late Don Walser, a true Texas yodeller it’s a honeycombed delight that brims with vitality.
There are 13 songs here and all of them deserve your attention as Cleaves digs deep into the emotional hurt of common folk with the spirit of Woody Guthrie and delivers it with the alt country feel of the likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Go For The Gold just about sums it up, a simple song with a simple message and blessed with immaculate guitar by Scrappy Jud Newcomb, a contender for song of the year.