Friday, December 6, 2013
Just as it should, summer represents homecomings and reunions for Slaid Cleaves.
Slaid Cleaves, who grew up in South Berwick, will perform Thursday in Damariscotta and Friday in Portland. He made his way here on a tour he’s calling “The Migrator: Texas to Maine.”
Courtesy photos by Karen Cleaves
Slaid Cleaves performing.
WHEN AND WHERE: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Darrows Barn, Damariscotta River Association, Damariscotta; 8 p.m. Friday, One Longfellow Square, Portland
TICKETS: $20 advance/$10 students for Damariscotta; $20 advance, $25 at the door for Portland
The Maine-bred singer-songwriter has lived in Texas almost half his life, moving there in 1991 to pursue his music. He's 49 now, and hasn't forgotten his roots.
He's back in Maine for concerts Thursday at the Midcoast Music Fest in Damariscotta and Friday at One Longfellow Square in Portland. In September, he returns to perform at Stone Mountain in Brownfield.
He comes home to Maine at least once a year, building a tour that begins in Texas and routes up through to Washington, D.C., where he was born, and into Maine and New England, where he grew up, went to school and began his career.
He's calling this tour "The Migrator: Texas to Maine."
Each stop along the way feels like a get-together with old friends, he said. When he plays in and around Boston, he hangs with friends he met in college. In Portsmouth, N.H., he connects with buds from nearby South Berwick, where he was raised and went to school.
In Portland, he socializes with musicians and friends he knew when he was learning how to work the crowd while playing in bars. In Damariscotta, he cajoles folks from nearby Bristol, where he spent time in the summer growing up.
When he performs Down East, he shares laughs with folks he hangs with at his family camp in Cherryfield.
"It's like one big reunion all the way from Texas," he said by phone during a tour stop last week. "It's kind of funny and kind of amazing. I start this reunion tour in Texas and it extends halfway across the country all summer long."
Cleaves has just released a new collection of songs, "Still Fighting the War." It is the latest in a long string of well-crafted CDs that distinguish Cleaves for his penetratingly personal and evocative songs. An English major, Cleaves is nothing if not a storyteller and writer.
He writes songs that make you laugh, cry and wonder. He comes from a tradition of singer-songwriters -- think John Prine or James McMurtry --who have the ability to turn a phrase just right to maximize the impact and image of the words.
When they work, his songs stick with you not only because of what they say, but because of Cleaves' ability craft them so they feel seamless and natural. He doesn't shoehorn words and phrases into spaces where they might not fit. He labors over his songs until he finds exactly the right words or phrase.
A good example of that effort is the title track to "Still Fighting the War."
It's a song about the demons of war, and how soldiers who return home often never leave their fight on the battlefield. It's a song about broken homes, bad economics and forgotten promises. "You've been home for a coupla years now buddy, but you're still fighting the war," he sings.
"I started that song about four years ago," he said. "In fact, it was the first thing I started working on after the previous record was done. It was originally more expansive, with a theme about being swindled and lied to. I wrote it in the depths and darkest part of the recession, and had a verse in there about the economy, a verse in there about a soldier, a verse in there about marriage. I knew it was too clunky, and I kept rewriting and editing, and finally narrowed it down to just the soldier's story. That captured my imagination, and it felt more dramatic to me."
He almost had the song finished, and was using the working title "The War to End All Wars." But there was something about it that still didn't feel right. One day, a buddy in Texas used the phrase "still fighting the war" in a conversation about a Vietnam War vet who recently died.
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Cleaves relaxing at the family camp in Cherryfield.
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Slaid Cleaves' latest album, “Still Fighting the War,” below, was released this year.