Few artists exude pain in their voices the way Slaid Cleaves can, and there are moments during his strong new full-length, "Still Fighting the War," when he seems a little like the male equivalent to Lucinda Williams.
With Rust Belt Fields, Cleaves speaks up for most anybody that's been laid low be America's recent recession, from those dealing with home foreclosure to the ones laid off from their jobs. There once was a time in the country when a willingness to sweat and strain on the job at least guaranteed a steady paycheck. However, Cleaves reminds us during the chorus, "No one remembers your name just for working hard."Almost every story, on this album of story songs, is a hard luck story in Cleaves' anti-storybook, including the girl that aims for the stars of Hollywood and misses badly. If there's any consolation, though, this failed actress finds the love of her life and will make it through, after all. Just not the way she planned it.
The title cut bravely speaks to American soldiers that return home from war battle scarred and psychologically damaged. It's difficult to leave one's work there at the jobsite, but it's doubly tough to leave war horrors on the Middle East battlefield, as Cleaves points out.
Cleaves proves he's equally skilled at writing love songs when he sings about a lonesome loser on Gone. The chorus is simple, but effective, whenever Cleaves reaches it to remind us, "There she was gone." Cleaves sings these lovelorn words over a gentle, finger-picked guitar backing and empathetic fiddle.
Whether on the left or the right, everybody's felt the pain of America's recent economic woes. And like the main character in Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," Cleaves has given us the voice to the modern day Tom Joad through much of "Still Fighting the War."