Slaid Cleaves : Sorrow & Smoke – Live at the Horseshoe Lounge

When Slaid Cleaves moved from Portland, Maine, to Austin, Texas, at the tail end of 1991, he landed on South Lamar Boulevard, a few blocks from the legendarily seedy Horseshoe Lounge. But as he points out on his new live album Sorrow and Smoke – Live at the Horseshoe Lounge, “It was many years of drivin’ by before I worked up the courage to come in through the door.”

Cleaves is the sort of musician that other musicians enjoy listening to. He captivates you with his lyrics, keeping you on the edge of your barstool for the next bit of wisdom laced with guitar. Cleaves, like many of the greats, seems to have a link to the listeners inner soul. He walks this tight line of stimulating your intellect with charm and passion.

His latest release, Sorrow & Smoke, is a live, two-disc release recorded from the Texas bar where it all started, the Horseshoe Lounge. The sound quality is exceptional and contains a fine balance of typical live bar noise and crisp acoustics. The sound leaves you wishing were sitting front and center with a cold beer dripping on your busted and bruised bar table.

Included on the release are 21 songs that serve as chapter marks to the Slaid Cleaves experience. This is mostly acoustic, Slaid alone with his guitar, at times accompanied by friends Michael O’Connor playing acoustic or harmony vocals, or Oliver Steck on accordion, harmonica, trumpet, and harmony vocals. Yet the sound that makes the experience so real is the crowd banter that makes you feel like the magic of the live music experience has finally been captured.

The song choice is exactly what you would hope, a mixture of his best songs mixed with a little yodeling in between. Cleaves opens the second disc with one my favorite songs, “Cry.” This song has always had a special place in my heart, as his plea to “Cry for your momma, cry for your dad. Cry for everything you know they never had.” grows only stronger as time catches us with me.

Cleaves waits until the end of this record to deliver one of the truly special moment with a new song called “Go For The Gold.” The lyrics are simple yet captivating. What I love about this album – and this song in particular – is it leaves me scouring Cleaves website in search of my next live experience.

Like any great album, Sorrow & Smoke captures the brilliance of the live exchange between an audience and an artist. Still, you have to see Cleaves in person to truly understand his genius.

Sorrow and Smoke – Live at the Horseshoe Lounge is now available on Music Road Records.