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Home Reviews Music Reviews Slaid Cleaves: Perfect choice to open City Hall Series - Sold-out crowd embraces near-perfect listening room experience

Slaid Cleaves: Perfect choice to open City Hall Series - Sold-out crowd embraces near-perfect listening room experience

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    Crossroads Music Company and Listening Room on Saturday made a great debut with its City Hall Series, as Americana artist Slaid Cleaves played to a sold-out house in the beautiful newly-renovated city council chambers.

    With high ceilings and a lot of glass in the room, clean, clear acoustics were a concern, but Brad Davis, a Grammy-award winning musician, and Tom Glossup handled the sound board with seeming ease.
    “Brad is a good friend who showed up to help us with this first show,” said Gus Gustafson, owner of Crossroads. Joey Baker, director of tourism for the City of Sulphur Springs and an expert sound man, also offered some tips to Gustafson earlier in the week.
    "I thought the sound for the concert was outstanding,” said local musician Loren Seely, who also operates a recording studio. “Having a sound person like Brad Davis was a great choice to get it right the first time. Vocals and acoustic instruments were spot on."     
    It would be hard to think of a better performer to christen the room. Although he’s not a chart-topping artist, Cleaves is one of the most respected singer/songwriters on the listening room circuit.
    “My audience is very polite and a good listening audience 99 percent of the time,” he said in a News-Telegram interview in June. “I like not having to play above the pool tables anymore.”
    In fact, the only thing that didn’t work perfectly Saturday night was the air conditioning. Gustafson, a community development specialist for Sulphur Springs, promises the issue will be worked out before the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Bluegrass Band show next month.
    Cleaves always knew he wanted to be a singer and moved from his home in Maine to Austin in 1991 to follow his dream.
    In 1992, he was a winner of the prestigious New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival, an award previously given to such artists as Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen and Steve Earle, according to Wikipedia.  
    "I am very much a fan of Texas musicians such as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zant and cannot believe I overlooked Slaid Cleaves before,” Seely said. “The depth of his music and words reminded me very much of them.”
    Cleaves has released 13 albums and is currently on tour until October, including more than 30 shows in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maine.
    He has a loyal and devoted fan base. Some drove from the metroplex to see the talented singer/songwriter.
    “Our daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Bob Hanley, came from their home in Dallas when they heard Slaid Cleaves would be in Sulphur Springs,” said Carol Gee.  “They had seen him a few years ago at a music festival in Cherokee put on by Kelcy Warren (the park in Dallas is named after his son, Klyde). They loved him then, and they loved him Saturday night.”
    Cleaves opened with “Horseshoe Lounge,” an ode to one of Austin’s good-time landmarks. The  audience gave Cleaves a rousing ovation for the tune, a song immediately associated with him – his own “Margaritaville.”
    “I’ve been doing this for 19 years now,” he told the audience. “It’s nice to have songs people know.”
    On his live record “Sorrow and Smoke,” Cleaves says it took him “many years of driving by the Horseshoe Lounge before I worked up the courage to come in through the door.”
    For Saturday’s show, Cleaves brought along popular Austin producer and studio artist Scrappy Jud Newcomb, who played a mean baritone guitar and provided solid back-up vocals.
    “Scrappy wowed the crowd with his talent,” Gee said. “My husband, Tim, thought he bore a remarkable resemblance to Bob Dylan. Sarah said she is not a huge fan of long guitar riffs, but in each one he played, his talent was evident.”
    Newcomb produced Cleaves’ record “Still Fighting the War.”
    When Cleaves performed the title number from the record, released in 2013, the room got completely silent.
    “Cleaves’ music and his words will touch deep within the soul of any person who has ever experienced combat,” said Vietnam veteran Trice Lawrence. “He understands the experience of ‘falling through the looking glass,’ and being inexorably and irrevocably changed.”
    The audience was treated to a performance of “Breakfast in Hell,” Cleaves’ retelling of the tragic story about Canadian lumberjack Sandy Gray and the log jam that was his undoing.
    The tune included a successful audience participation section. We were charged with making lumberjack/working gang noises and we did it quite well.
    Also included in the set list were “Lydia,” “Drinkin’ Days,” “I’ll Bet She Does,” “One Good Year,” “Rust Belt Fields” and the hilarious “Horses and Divorces.”
    He paid tribute to yodeling legend Don Wasler – The Pavarotti of the Plains – with “Texas Top Hand” and “God’s Own Yodeler.”
    Wasler befriended Cleaves when he moved from Maine to Austin back in 1991 and the two remained close until Wasler’s death in 2006.
    From the reaction of the attentive audience, Cleaves made a lot of new fans during the evening.
    “Our family and everyone I talked to who was in attendance loved the show,” Gee commented. “In addition to being a talented musician, Slaid is a talented songwriter who paints a picture with each story. His vignettes took the audience from his childhood, to his move to Austin and then on the road. He showed a real passion for both music and the friends he has made along the way.”
    Cleaves closed the show with “One Good Year,” a man’s plea for a break.

. . . 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

The tune shows Cleaves at his best, singing songs of the common man, who is not perfect, but still struggling to make his way.
    For the encore, Cleaves and Newcomb unplugged and offered up an acoustic version of “This Morning I Was Born Again,” with lyrics written by Woody Guthrie, whose birthday was June 14.
    Guthrie had never published music to go with the lyrics, so Cleaves put a tune with the words and performed it for a couple of years before he received approval from Guthrie’s family.  
    “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission,” he quipped.

. . . I feel the sun upon me, its rays crawl through my skin
I breathe the life of Jesus and old John Henry in
I give myself, my heart, my soul to give some friend a hand
This morning I was born again, I am in the Promised Land

Cleaves and Newcomb walked up the center aisle, singing Guthrie’s powerful words, taking the audience to church. It was a pitch perfect ending to the true listening room experience.
    “It’s obvious that Sulphur Springs has embraced the concept of  listening room and Crossroads’ new home,” Gustafson said. “Slaid says he wants to come back, so we’ll have to make Sulphur Springs a regular stop on his tour.”

    The next City Hall Series concert, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, features Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Bluegrass Band. Visit www.crossroadsmusiccompany.com for ticket information. Act quickly, as the council chambers only seats 100 and the show should sell out in a hurry.
    To watch a clip of Slaid Cleaves performing “Still Fighting the War,” visit: http://youtu.be/1RoVXYKC_iU
    To watch a clip of “Horseshoe Lounge,” visit: http://youtu.be/YxutCyQS88U
    To learn more about Slaid Cleaves, visit www.slaidcleaves.com
    To read News-Telegram interviews with Cleaves, visit www.mySSnews.com and type “Slaid Cleaves” in the search window.




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