Slaid Cleaves - Broke Down

Broke Down

Slaid Cleaves

Philo 1225

Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by Moshe Benarroch (

This is Cleaves fifth recording and his second for Rounder. It is not much different than his Rounder debut, No Angel Knows. He follows in the steps of the Kerrville sound. After all, he was a first-prize winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival. His sound is acoustic, like that of many other Texans. Only rarely do we hear the sound of electric guitars. This CD is clearly of that Austin folk-territory sound.

Ray Wylie Hubbard said about Cleaves: "He's got it, whatever it is..." and this is true. Cleaves has got it. He can sing like he's never done anything else, as if he's been here since the beginning of the world. The problem is the inconsistency of his material. Great songs melt with mediocre ones. His best songs are great short stories. In others, it seems that Cleaves just doesn't care for his characters. I found this problem also with his first Rounder CD. It makes me wonder that if maybe he had waited and held onto his best material, he might have come out with a great album.

The first two songs are quite convincing, especially the second one, One Good Year. The narrator tells us of his troubles and asks for just one good year to get out of it:

Just give me one good year
to get my feet back on the ground.
I've been chasing grace
But grace ain't so easily found.

The chorus of this song is memorable and you may find yourself humming the melody after you've heard it twice.

After that, we are seated at the lounge and served a mediocre song in Horseshoe Lounge. With rhymes such as broke/smoke and chance/glance, I wasn't able to finish this song even one time. Many thanks to the skip button.

His best song to date is Breakfast In Hell. At almost 6 minutes, this story is of epic proportions. It is the story of Sandy Gray from Ontario, who fights nature until nature wins. The story is sung in long lines, reminiscent of Dylan's longer songs. The end is the making of a myth:

"East of Giant's Tomb there's plenty of room, there's no fences and no walls. And if you listen close you'll hear a ghost down by Sandy Gray Falls. Through the tops of the trees you'll hear in the breeze the echoes of a mighty yell: "I'll be damned, we'll break this jam, or it's breakfast in hell, boys,"
- Breakfast in Hell.

There is much to like in Broke Down, but the overall feeling is that Cleaves is not there yet. He will make it one day and deliver a great record, I'm sure of that, but this is not the one.

Song List

  • Broke Down
  • One Good Year
  • Horseshoe Lounge
  • Cold And Lonely
  • Breakfast In Hell
  • Bring It On
  • Lydia
  • This Morning I Am Born Again
  • Key Chain
  • I Feel The Blues Moving In

Edited by: Jonathan Colcord

Copyright 2000, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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