Everything You Love Will be Taken Away
Slaid Cleaves. Grew up in Maine. Lives in Texas. Writes songs. Makes Records. Travels around. Tries to be good.
Granted, there’s a whole lot of history and detail that could be shoehorned into that most minimal of bios to flesh out Cleaves’ story. But all that’s really called for, from time to time, is a footnote or two to bring folks up to speed on his latest batch of literate, sepia-toned Americana songcraft. This year’s bounty comes baring the foreboding title of Everything You Love Will be Taken Away, but fans of the Austin-based singer-songwriter needn’t fear: Everything you love about the man’s singular voice and music is still very much intact.
It’s been five years since Cleaves’ last album of self-penned songs, 2004’s acclaimed Wishbones, which fans had waited nearly as long for in the afterglow of his 2000 breakthrough, Broke Down. But Cleaves’ slow-and-steady-wins-the-race pace has always yielded albums full of uncommonly fine-tuned songs built to stand the test of time, and Everything You Love . . . is par for his course.
Take the lead-off track, for example. “I think of that song as sort of a breakthrough,” he says of “Cry,” which jumps out as not only one of the most emotionally trenchant songs of his career, but also arguably one of his catchiest. “It showcases a shift in focus that I’ve taken with my songwriting. It’s a bit more internal, personal. I actually recorded that song four separate times, because from the start it felt like something new and special, and I wasn’t quite sure how to present it. But I always felt like this one could go all the way if I did it right. I thought it had the bones of a thoroughbred.”
One line in “Cry” lends the album its title and establishes a theme that runs throughout the record. “Whether it’s your loved ones, your way of life, or even just your sense of innocence and hope, every song in some way is about how it all gets taken away,” says Cleaves.
To put the new record together, Cleaves teamed again with co-writing buddies like Rod Picott and Adam Carroll, as well as famed roots-rock producer Gurf Morlix. Additional tracks were cut with long-time road-guitarist Charles Arthur in Virginia, and Austin singer-songwriter and producer Billy Harvey was called in help find that elusive, perfect take on “Cry.”
Everything You Love . . . marks Cleaves’ debut on the newly launched co-op label Music Road Records, the brainchild of fellow Austin songwriter Jimmy LaFave. “I’m in on all the decisions,” says Cleaves. “It feels good to have so much more control over my fate now. I figured, I cut my own hair, I fix my own car — so why shouldn’t I be the one responsible for getting this work of mine out into the world?”
Only time will tell how this new journey pans out; check back again in, oh, hopefully sometime before another five years have gone by. But in the meantime, there’s plenty to savor right here and now in the digital grooves of Everything You Love Will be Taken Away. Hold onto it for dear life, and savor every minute of it.
Richard Skanse, Editor, Texas Music