Slaid Cleaves
Together Through the Dark

“A master storyteller, one influenced not by the shine of pop-culture but by the dirt of real life.” –ROLLING STONE COUNTRY

“Songs about surmounting dark days together are always imbued with emotion but there is new light cast here when an artist such as Cleaves drops the emotionally raw line, “Can’t fight the storm outside / but we can wait it out.”  –FOLK ALLEY

“Cleaves’ latest single “Through The Dark” jangles in, surveying a Western landscape drowning and in darkness. Written with friend and writing partner Rod Picott, Slaid offers hope in his signature voice, singing, “When the night comes creeping in / And the day has left a mark / I’ll take you by the hand /Together through the dark.”  –THE CREEK

The first single, “Through the Dark,” was co-written with Slaid’s long-time collaborator and childhood friend, Rod Picott. Slaid describes it simply as “a song about offering comfort in hard times.”

Slaid Cleaves. Modern day traveling folk singer. He’s telling your story.
Writes and records songs that strike people’s hearts and become a part of their lives.

Americana/folk stalwart Slaid Cleaves has been putting out highly acclaimed records for 25 years now, consistently delivering songs that strike people’s hearts and become part of their lives. Together Through the Dark is no different. Producer Scrappy Jud Newcomb and Cleaves teamed up for the third time in early 2022 between Covid surges to record a new batch of songs, Slaid’s first in five years. Familiar themes of struggle and resilience will be a surprise to no one. As Scrappy puts it, “This album speaks to the hopeful, the hard working, the battered, confused, and the sad. But above all to the believers in the city of freedom that we heard in the stories of our youth and all those FM radio hits.”

“I tend to think of songs as the whiskey of writing. Distilled down to the essence, powerful, concentrated, immediate. You can take it all in and really feel it in just seconds.”

— Slaid Cleaves

Now twenty-five years into his storied career, Cleaves’ songwriting has never been more potent than on his new album Ghost on the Car Radio, out June 23.

The characters in Slaid Cleaves’ songs live in unglamorous reality. They work dead-end jobs, they run out of money, they grow old, they hold on to each other (or not), and they die. With an eye for the beauty in everyday life, he tells their stories, bringing a bit of empathy to their uncaring world.

On “Take Home Pay,” co-written with longtime friend Rod Picott, Cleaves sings from the perspective of an aging manual laborer, fighting looming regret and sadness with stubborn resiliency (and opioid use).

“On my way down to the pawn shop
A couple hundred is all I need
If I have to, I’ll hit the blood bank
I’m bone dry but I can always bleed

I got some Oxy to keep me moving
It slowly takes some things away
The only thing I was scared of losing
She packed up and left today”

— “Take Home Pay”

“As befits the times we live in, there’s a heavy dose of disappointment and disillusion here,” he says. But somehow, through the worst of it, optimism remains, as if to say, “Yeah, things are pretty bad out there. But there’s still some good stuff if you know where to look.”

One place his characters find solace is with each other. Traditional love songs are not often found on a Slaid Cleaves record. Here he approaches the subject less as a romantic gesture, and more as a world-weary appreciation of the one who’s seen you through thick and thin, as in the song “So Good to Me.”

“Times were tough but we were tougher
Slings and arrows we did suffer
Scars, we’ve got a few, but who has not

Words of love and words of anger
Times of peace and times of danger
Never take for granted what we’ve got”

— “So Good To Me”

Described as “terse, clear and heartfelt” (NPR Fresh Air), his songs speak to timeless truths. “I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” he says.

“Songs are so accessible. You don’t need an education to fully appreciate them, you don’t need a lot of leisure time to spend on them, you don’t need to learn the language of song. We seem to be born with it,” Cleaves explains. “With no preparation at all, they can bring you to tears in a matter of seconds. I remember being three or four and getting a lump in my throat when I heard Hank Williams sing.”

Now in his fifties, Cleaves admits that it’s sometimes hard to stay inspired. “I do become jaded,” he says. “I wonder that, at this point in my career, I’ve had no real national success. No impact on the culture, as my heroes had. The music that I love just doesn’t seem relevant to mainstream culture. But then, I have no interest in what mainstream culture offers either.”

“But those feelings are always quickly overcome by gratitude,” he explains. “I’m making a living as a musician, and making a meaningful connection with people – what could be better than that?”

Ghost on the Car Radio is Cleaves’ first release since 2013’s Still Fighting the War, which was praised as “one of the year’s best albums” by American Songwriter and “carefully crafted…songs about the struggles of the heart in hard times” by the Wall Street Journal. The New York Daily News called his music “a treasure hidden in plain sight,” while the Austin Chronicle declared, “there are few contemporaries that compare. He’s become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine.”

The music of Austin-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Slaid Cleaves is rooted in country and traditional folk songs, but it is unusual enough to have held interest in a sea of singer/songwriters across the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. While he released a handful of recordings during the early ’90s, he gained significant notice with No Angel Knows, which was released on Rounder’s Philo subsidiary in 1997. Joined by former Lucinda Williams guitarist Gurf Morlix, Cleaves combined his passion for folk songs, blues, and traditional country music into an amalgamation of styles known as Americana. Not surprisingly, the album rode high into the charts at Americana-formatted radio stations around the U.S. and Canada in 1997. The release set the tone for the rest of his career.
Prior to entering the music industry, Cleaves majored in English and philosophy at Tufts University in his native New England, and began playing music in garage rock bands while still in high school. While in college, he learned guitar, and later spent a summer in Ireland. He began busking on the streets in Cork, and that was the turning point when he decided to become a folksinger. At Tufts, he developed his guitar skills and studied the music of Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen. He recalled that he had listened to the music of Guthrie, Carl Perkins, and Hank Williams as a child, so he went back into his parents’ attic to discover a treasure trove of albums.

After many years in Portland, Maine, he sought new mountains to climb, and found some of them after moving to Austin, Texas, in 1992. Despite the echelon of great singer/songwriters like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, and Joe Ely all centered around the Austin scene, Cleaves was able to make a name for himself there. In 1995, he recorded an independent album for Rock Bottom Records entitled Life’s Other Side. In 1996, he began his collaboration with Morlix, who liked Cleaves’ demo tape and ended up serving as producer for 1997’s No Angel Knows.

During the following decade, Cleaves released Broke Down (2000) and Wishbones (2004) prior to switching to Rounder proper for Unsung (2006). After signing with Jimmy LaFave and Kelcy Warren’s Music Road label, he issued Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (2009, featuring liner notes from fan Stephen King), the two-disc Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge (2011), and Still Fighting the War (2013). The title song of the latter album was inspired by Craig F. Walker’s Pulitzer-winning photo essay regarding a soldier’s postwar civilian life. 2017’s Ghost on the Car Radio found Cleaves exploring the traditions of American small town life.

Now twenty-five years into his storied career, Cleaves’ songwriting has never been more potent than on his new album Ghost on the Car Radio, out June 23.

The characters in Slaid Cleaves’ songs live in unglamorous reality. They work dead-end jobs, they run out of money, they grow old, they hold on to each other (or not), and they die. With an eye for the beauty in everyday life, he tells their stories, bringing a bit of empathy to their uncaring world.

On “Take Home Pay,” co-written with longtime friend Rod Picott, Cleaves sings from the perspective of an aging manual laborer, fighting looming regret and sadness with stubborn resiliency (and opioid use).

“As befits the times we live in, there’s a heavy dose of disappointment and disillusion here,” he says. But somehow, through the worst of it, optimism remains, as if to say, “Yeah, things are pretty bad out there. But there’s still some good stuff if you know where to look.”

One place his characters find solace is with each other. Traditional love songs are not often found on a Slaid Cleaves record. Here he approaches the subject less as a romantic gesture, and more as a world-weary appreciation of the one who’s seen you through thick and thin, as in the song “So Good to Me.”

Described as “terse, clear and heartfelt” (NPR Fresh Air), his songs speak to timeless truths. “I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” he says.

“Songs are so accessible. You don’t need an education to fully appreciate them, you don’t need a lot of leisure time to spend on them, you don’t need to learn the language of song. We seem to be born with it,” Cleaves explains. “With no preparation at all, they can bring you to tears in a matter of seconds. I remember being three or four and getting a lump in my throat when I heard Hank Williams sing.”

Now in his fifties, Cleaves admits that it’s sometimes hard to stay inspired. “I do become jaded,” he says. “I wonder that, at this point in my career, I’ve had no real national success. No impact on the culture, as my heroes had. The music that I love just doesn’t seem relevant to mainstream culture. But then, I have no interest in what mainstream culture offers either.”

“But those feelings are always quickly overcome by gratitude,” he explains. “I’m making a living as a musician, and making a meaningful connection with people – what could be better than that?”

Ghost on the Car Radio is Cleaves’ first release since 2013’s Still Fighting the War, which was praised as “one of the year’s best albums” by American Songwriter and “carefully crafted…songs about the struggles of the heart in hard times” by the Wall Street Journal. The New York Daily News called his music “a treasure hidden in plain sight,” while the Austin Chronicle declared, “there are few contemporaries that compare. He’s become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine.”