— Steve Klinge
SLAID CLEAVES: ‘Still Fighting the War’
3 1/2 stars
Although he’s from Maine, Slaid Cleaves now hails from Austin, Texas, and he has an abiding love for the Lone Star State, as he shows on the jaunty “Texas Love Song” and “God’s Own Yodeler,” his tribute to the late, big-voiced country singer Don Walser, “the Pavarotti of the Plains.” As the album title indicates, however, Cleaves has some deeper and darker themes to explore, and the folk-country troubadour does so with his usual sharpness and grace. “Still Fighting the War” lays out the debilitating costs to veterans, “Welding Burns” is an empathetic portrait of his hardworking father, and “Rust Belt Fields” confronts bitter truths more with resignation than anger (“No one remembers your name just for working hard”). In his understated way, Cleaves is just as powerful when dealing with matters of the heart on “Without Her” and “I Bet She Does,” or pondering his own end on “Voice of Midnight,” where he declares, “I’ll take my comfort in song.” Easier to do when the songs are as good as those here.
— Nick Cristiano