Slaid Cleaves – Swallow Hill, CO

Texas singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves played his third Colorado date on a tour to promote his latest album, Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away, at Denver’s acoustic center, Swallow Hill.

And as a delightful storyteller, he treated the audience to an hour of his tales in both the songs and in the onstage banter with help from Ivan Brown and Charles Arthur.

“That’s a song of the record that just came out in April,” he said after Hard To Believe. “That’s brand new in my terms, I don’t put out a record but every four or five years. That’s a brand new record for Slaid Cleaves.”

He dedicated Green Mountains and Me to all “service families out there that have paid more than their fair share in the last few years.”

“I live in Texas,” he started. “But I grew up in Maine. It was a good place to grow up, I lived in a town on the southern end of Maine, about 3,000 people. And it was kind of a rough and tumble town when I was growing up, 30 or 40 years ago. On the school bus I met this character named Rod Picott and we became best friends and we were in a band together in high school, the Magic Rats. We rode the school bus in grade school together.

“My bus went out to the edge of town to pick up kids who milked cows before they went to school and pick up kids that lived by junkyards in houses that had a little smokestack and the wood stove smell. And these kids were years older than us. Rod and I were these sensitive singer-songwriter types, eight-years-old and the other guys were like little men.” He added that they wrote this song about those kids on the bus before playing Black T-Shirt

After Broke Down he explained, “that song was kind of a dividing point in my career. Before ‘Broke Down’ I was totally obscure and after ‘Broke Down’ I was merely relatively obscure. There’s a big difference though, slightly losing money year after year and slightly making money year after year. I racked up a lot of credit card debt before ‘Broke Down’ came out and paid it off for many years. I wrote that song 9 years ago, so I’ve kind of been coasting for awhile. Credit card debt all got paid off a couple years ago and had a little extra money last year, I put it in the stock market.

Slaid and Ivan Brown

“Now it’s time for a new hit song. That’s what I’ve been working on, up in a woodshed. I’ve been working on this new batch of songs, that’s why I haven’t seen you all here at Swallow Hill for such a long time. It’s been 3 or 4 years since I’ve been here. We came up with this record, Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away, this is the title track.” He played Cry and then after “a half hour of sad songs” passed the baton to Ivan who played a funny song about his son, Zane, He’s Six.

“That was fun,” Slaid said. “Back to the miserable folk songs… y’all want to hear yodeling or workplace disaster songs?” After deciding to start with the workplace disasters tune, Breakfast in Hell. Requiring audience participation, Ivan led a chorus of lumberjack “heave-hos” intended to break the log jam on the Musquash River.

“The verse is over now,” Slaid said. “That was pretty good.” Ivan agreed, “until the altitude got ’em.” Slaid took a moment to explain the verse because “people are concentrating so hard on their part they don’t hear what happens and they get lost. So, we’ll do a quick little recap. Two very important things happen in that verse. Good news is we broke the log jam, thanks a lot for helping, but there’s bad news too, I’m afraid – towards the end of that verse the logs all came tumbling down and one man didn’t make it off in time.”

For the promised yodeling number, Slaid played Horses saying it was, “a song about my parents’ wacky neighbor. His name is Willie Jr. and he’s been divorced three times and when he gets a cold, he gargles kerosene. He’s a rough and tumble character. He likes guns, he’s still got a McCain sticker on his truck and he just turned 60 a few weeks ago. I just heard this new information that at his 60th birthday party, to prove his continued manhood and virility and strength, he walked front of his house and did a headstand on the yellow line on the road in front of his house and did a shot of Wild Turkey, while in the headstand. I heard it corroborated by several witness. This is the character we’re talking about.”

He took a moment to talk about learning to yodel from his dad’s Hank Williams records and noted that he was playing his dad’s guitar and how he had also learned from the “Pavaratti of the Plains” Don Walser.

They played Texas Top Hand, which Don wrote with Ray Benson from Asleep at the Wheel. Slaid segued into Temporary by talking about singing Don’s songs to him when he was sick and then about how the song was written by looking at tombstone epitaphs online.

He congratulated Swallow Hill for their anniversary and said they were trying to hit the 3,000 mark and since that was about what he had on his mailing list that they should certainly have 3,000 Denverites.

Insisting that he’d leave the audience with One Good Year, a “hopeful song written as a prayer for better things to come.”

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Photos by Nichole Wagner

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