Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge
Slaid Cleaves is far from prolific when it comes to the production of new studio material, and it’s coming up on three years since his last album. So while we wait a little longer for the next one, here’s a treat – a double live album featuring everyone’s favourites, released to coincide with his current UK tour.
The album, recorded over two shows at the iconic Horseshoe Lounge in Austin that Cleaves immortalised in song a decade ago, tries to give a snapshot of a Cleaves show in a small venue, complete with audience participation and light-hearted heckling. He is supported by his regular US band, Michael O’Connor on lead guitar and Oliver Steck on accordion, harmonica and trumpet.
All of Cleaves’ best-known songs are among the 21 tracks, including “Horseshoe Lounge” itself, the heart-rending “Lydia” and the bouncy singalong – but no less tragic – that is “Breakfast in Hell”. Cleaves also has a three-song showcase of his considerable yodeling skills, and the album ends with a single new song, “Go For the Gold”, an exhortation to make the most of whatever life throws at you with tolerance and respect for others.
Between the songs, Cleaves talks primarily about how he, a New Englander, went about making a home for himself in Texas, the people he met and the help that he received, as well as the reticence about going into Texas bars that kept him out of the Horseshoe Lounge for years. Cleaves is now firmly ensconsed in the Texas lifestyle and the Austin music scene, and the bars of Austin welcome him with open arms.
As an introduction to Cleaves music , Sorrow & Smoke is unbeatable. As an introduction to his live shows, though, it seems to be missing something. While his performance are rendered perfectly, the existence and involvement of the audience actually isn’t apparent. Cleaves comes across as slighty detached, which is a pity for those of us who know that he is perfectly capable of holding a room even when performing solo, as he usually does in the UK. If you want to know what a Slaid Cleaves live show is like, there still is no better option than to go to one. (Slaid Cleaves tour dates: click here)