Never a man to let you down Slaid Cleaves again comes up with the goods with Ghost On The Car Radio, a magnificent selection of songs that, aside from acting as a primer on how to turn out a nigh perfect album, reflects our current troubled times. It’s not a political album per se but Cleaves continues to be a champion of blue collar working songs on the sly country funk of Little Guys and the finely burnished Primer Gray, both songs hanging on the automobile as a metaphor for the state of the nation. The pulsating Take Home Pay with its growling guitars is a fine a capture of day to day scraping it together, the protagonist, unable to compete with younger labourers, pawns what he has and considers selling his blood, as Cleaves explains, “I’m bone dry but I can bleed.” Continuing their mutual admiration society Cleaves features four songs co-written with his buddy Rod Picott and his version of Drunken Barber’s Hand (a pacier rendition than Picott’s on Fortune), is given some elucidation via an interview Cleaves gave to Rolling Stone where he explains that the song was written in response to the topsy turvy politics that was gathering pace in the States.
Given all this the album overall is less direct than Cleaves’ last album (2013’s Still Fighting The War) and he lays down some songs that at times approach a Beatles’ like melodic air. If I Had A Heart is a careworn threnody, a life of dissolution and regret straining to accept the concept of a new innocence. So Good To Me meanwhile has McCartney like bridges over a very finely nuanced mix of acoustic clatter and swooning electric guitar while To Be Held drips with soulful tears as Cleaves almost dips into Solomon Burke territory with able assistance from Harmoni Kelley on harmony. There are also some invigorating slices of out and out jangled rock with Still be Mine a wonderful cascade of keyboards and guitars while the opening song, Already Gone, crashes in with a Tom Petty like flourish. Add in the Bakersfield jaunt of The Old Guard and the closing solo rendition of Junkyard, a slight return to the automobile motif equating a terminal illness to the heaps of rusting cars and you have one of the best albums of the year so far.