2006-09-25 : Music blogging: Dog songs 2

I've seen Slaid Cleaves twice. The first time was the time he shared billing with Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry, at Coffee and Soul a few years ago; the second time was at the Iron Horse in Northampton just last winter.

The first time, he interrupted his set to get the house lights on so that he could see us, instead of feeling like it was just him and his band singing alone in his bedroom; then again later to get the mikes cut, so we could hear what they really sounded like; then a third time because he'd been touring with Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry all this time but he'd never gotten to play with them, and would we mind if he invited them out? (We wouldn't.) Meg was a fan of his already. I'd never heard him before, and I liked his music just fine but even more I was struck by his total and uncalculated generosity as a performer. He shared himself, his music, and his stage, openly and freely and without any self-effacement or selfconsciousness at all.

He cut the mikes and they sang Woodie Guthrie songs unamplified and I could've stayed there forever.

The second time, he was coming down with a cold and he was exhausted. He'd run out of cash to bring his band on tour with him so he was on stage by himself, and his voice was ragged, and one time he went an extra time around on his guitar to tell us that man, he wished he could give some band member or other a solo just now and give his voice a rest. He told us stories about his worst gigs, a time he finished a show out on the sidewalk because the bar owner wouldn't let him turn off the TV. He didn't yodel at all. He closed with a group sing:

'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times,
Come again no more
Many days you have lingered
Around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

And it was exactly the same generosity.

He doesn't really sing Dogs songs, except maybe two:
"This Morning I Am Born Again" (words by Woodie Guthrie, music by Slaid Cleaves) and "Cold and Lonely," both from his 2000 album Broke Down. Rather than put up an mp3 of the latter, I'll point you to his audio/video page where you can download the video. Maybe you could make a case for "Sinner's Prayer." But mostly his songs are too modern in sensibility, too much about alienation and heartache (even the fun ones are sad; the sad ones are MAN ALIVE sad) and not enough about God and death.

If you like those couple songs, though, buy the album. If you like that album, buy the others. I own Broke Down, Wishbones (the title track of which is one of my man alive sad favorites) and Unsung, and it's only a matter of time until I pick up the earlier ones.

But more, if you get a chance to see him live, do. As much as I like his albums, they don't quite do him justice. See, he's a yodeler, and he's a good one, and in person you can hear it in his voice. Little lively hooks at the ends of the lines that - for whatever reason - don't survive in the studio. Too bad, too.

If you represent Slaid Cleaves and you'd rather I take down the mp3, just email me and I will at once.

1. On 2006-09-25, David Coulter said:

The acoustic version of "Devil's Lullaby" has something of a Dogs feel of it, to me. It's a little too modern in places, but this bit:

I sang a song when I was young
About the power in the blood
Jesus, he can't save me
I'm crucified

has a perfectly quiet despair about it. By itself it's not Dogs, but it felt right in the context of the Dogs mix CD I made for my players. You have to doubt before you can really believe.


2. On 2006-09-26, Ben Lehman said:

Vincent, you're making some financial decisions very difficult for me.

But you're also expanding the Drifter's Escape soundtrack.



3. On 2006-09-26, sammy said:

Hard Times is my favorite Stephen Foster song. Even better than "Camptown Races," which my mother used to whistle to get her cats to come to her. No, seriously. (Her current cats aren't so old-timey.)

The first time I heard Hard Times it was as performed by eastmountainsouth, who do a nice job with it. I recommend them: the arrangements are modern (and their producer is Mitchell Froom!), but a lot of the songs have a distinctly traditional feel to them.

I don't know Slaid Cleaves, but I'm going to have to check him out now.


4. On 2006-09-26, Meguey said:

I saw him first at the Green River Festival in Greenfield, a few months before Vincent. What I like about him is the way he sings to the whole crowd - kids, teens, old folks - not just targeting his market, like others on the Festival bill did. That yodel just ropes in the kids. His sets leave you happy for what you have and hoping better for the rest of the world. My current favorites are:

Horses and Divorces

Horses Full of Dreams

(If Google was working for me, I'd be sure of the names, and they'd be links. Oh well.)


5. On 2006-09-26, Vincent said:

Oh hey! I heard an Eastmountainsouth song on the radio and never managed to chase 'em down. Thanks Sam!


6. On 2006-09-26, Dave Y said:

I've only ever heard 'Lydia' by Slaid Cleaves, but I listened to it over and over and over. You're right, it's time I went out and bought the album.


7. On 2006-09-26, David Coulter said:

Hard Times is a wonderful song, and really perfect for the sense of community in DitV. There's a perfect version on the CD Songs From the Mountain featuring Tim O'Brien, Dirk Powell, and some others. It's an album inspired by the novel "Cold Mountain" (before the movie was made) and the whole thing is full of great, authentic, old-timey music that suits the people of the Faith very nicely.


8. On 2006-09-26, Clinton R. Nixon said:

My wife really likes Slaid Cleaves. I'd imagined he was just a second-rate version of the Nashville-glittery-boots crowd, but now I'll have to give him a real look-see. (And I'm also embarrassed for not taking her word for it.)


9. On 2006-09-26, Meguey said:

There's a section on his site called 'stories' that is really cool. It's him, telling stories of stuff. I especially like Is that your real name? and Time for a Haircut


10. On 2006-09-26, Meguey said:

Vincent, if you haven't read My Clambake Recipe, read it now. It made me hungry!


11. On 2006-09-27, Matt S said:

This is probably from way out in left field, Vincent, but here's a recommendation for you (and everyone!). Check out folk-blues guy Kelly Joe Phelps:

Like I said, not sure if it's your thing, but he's worth a listen in my book! I only have one of his albums (Shine Eyed Mr. Zen from 1999), but it has this version of traditional folk song House Carpenter that leaves my mouth agape every time I hear it.

In fact, I'd go as far as to say everyone on this blog should hear that song. It blows me away with the guitar work, and the well known song-story will punch you in the gut.


12. On 2006-09-27, Vincent said:

Kelly Joe Phelps enlinkified. I'll check him out.

Back when Meg and I were going to house sings and pub sings all the time, "Hard Times" was a standard, one of our friend Sarah's standards. Consequently it's always sounded right to me as a New England spiritual. Slaid Cleaves' rendition was close, but country renditions seem all wrong to me. Funny!


13. On 2006-09-27, Vincent said:

Oh man. Kelly Joe Phelps is kicking my butt.


14. On 2006-09-27, NinJ said:

Clinton, are you implying that there's something wrong with my glittery boots?


15. On 2006-09-27, Matt S said:

Vincent—AWESOME! Me too. The KJP audiostream is nice; I'm hearing lots of songs I've never heard before. I see I have some purchases eating a hole in my wallet soon.


16. On 2006-10-02, nathan said:

have you heard any of will oldham's music?  he goes by the name of bonny "prince" billy too.  good songs and a one of a kind voice.
i enjoyed reading "dogs", the text and layout are wonderful, now if i can just get to play it.
d.c. berman, of the "silver jews" is a really good lyricist too.  check out the song "there is a place" off of the album "tanglewood numbers".
thanks again, and keep up the good work.



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