He’s not exactly upbeat, but Slaid Cleaves is a natural talent who records all too infrequently. Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away . . . (Music Road) is his first collection of new material since his acclaimed 2004 release, Wishbones, which itself took four years to come out. Cleaves likes to live with his songs and let time discern the best ones; flavors of the month rarely make the final cut. The approach yields records that are exceedingly solid but lacking in spontaneity. Cleaves has lived in Austin since 1991, but he grew up in Maine and retains a Northeastern ethos. Bruce Springsteen is an obvious influence; Cleaves shares the Jersey rocker’s gift for storytelling and anthemic melody, and he possesses a similarly strong populist streak. Yet the comparison ends there: Cleaves never quite cuts loose. There’s no denying his craft, though. The two songs that open the album, “Cry” and “Hard to Believe,” rank among his best. Other memorable works include the pining “Green Mountains and Me,” the political “Beautiful Thing,” and the wistful “Temporary,” which features lines cribbed from headstones and neatly sums up the album’s outlook.
From the May 2009 Issue Subscribe