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Slaid Cleaves

Sorrow and Smoke - Live at the Horseshoe Lounge – 2011 (Music Road)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Slaid Cleaves

Twenty years in Texas is bound to put a twang in your delivery and a hitch in your gait, and so it is with roots/folk singer/songwriter Slaid Cleaves, who celebrates a couple of decades worth of Austin life with the release of his first live album, "Sorrow and Smoke - Live at the Horseshoe Lounge."

But if you want to examine the source of Cleaves' wonderful sense of melody, fluid acoustic guitar stylings and exquisite melancholy, you have to go back to his New England upbringing. Like fellow nor'easter Loudon Wainwright III, Cleaves sports a wry sense of humor, finely tuned observational skills and a beautifully formed sadness that permeates a good many of his songs like the bar haze romanticized on the front of "Sorrow and Smoke."

The bulk of the double disc's set list is comprised of selections from Cleaves' last three original albums - 2009's "Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away," 2004's "Wishbones" and his 2000 breakthrough "Broke Down" - with the title track from 1997's "No Angel Knows," a couple of Don Walser covers (Texas Top Hand, Rolling Stone From Texas)to tribute his longtime mentor and the Hank Williams-inspired gospel number, Go For the Gold for good measure.

Cleaves picked his set well - the Joe Ely/Robert Earl Keen-flavored fan favorite Broke Down, the prototypical high school bad boy ode Black T Shirt, the brilliantly twisted Breakfast in Hell, the laconic semi-regret of Drinkin' Days, and the actual/ostensible title track, Horseshoe Lounge, featuring Cleaves' admission that he lived in Austin for years before working up the nerve to actually venture inside one of the city's most storied dive bars. Anyone who has ever experienced the live power of Slaid Cleaves already knows the instant appeal of "Sorrow and Smoke;" his songs are great stories, but the stories between songs are their equal.