Album Review: Slaid Cleaves. ‘Together Through the Dark’
Like Guy Clark, Slaid Cleaves is a plainspoken storyteller whose spaciously echoing songs provide a glimpse into the shadows that haunt us and the hope that enlivens us. The 12 songs on Together Through the Dark, his first album since 2018’s Ghosts on the Car Radio, shine with a raw beauty as they explore ways that individuals yearn for community, negotiate loss, and celebrate the small moments that illumine the hidden corners of our souls where we find ourselves.
The album takes its title from the chorus of the opening track, “Through the Dark,” which Cleaves co-wrote with Rod Picott. The song spins between the darkness of the verses and the brightly ringing harmonies of the chorus, revealing the ragged ambivalence of life as we know it.
“Puncher’s Chance,” with sonic echoes of Jackson Browne, tells the tale of a bar denizen looking back on his past: “I stepped out into the night/When I heard a voice call out my name/From under the streetlamp light/I knew him from my bar room days.”
The propulsive rocker “Next Heartbreak” acknowledges that loss is an integral part of life and that all heartbreak is inevitable; resilience comes from knowing how much a heart can take and counting our blessings and moving on. The haunting “Double Shift Tuesday,” co-written with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, features an echoing call-and-response chorus—“How’d you end up here?”—that reflects on the ways that we find ourselves spinning and turning and making the same choices over and over.
Taking a riff from John Mellencamp’s “Small Town, “Second Hand” gazes wistfully at a life that might have been, while the Byrds-like psychedelia of “Terlingua Chili Queen” rocks on about a woman who trades in a life of designer clothes and “dancin’ in Deep Ellum” and heads west with a “chili recipe…and a half a pint of gin.”
The album closes with “Make Your Own Light,” another co-write with Picott. It’s a quietly spinning, spare ballad that counsels that we each have a light of knowledge within us.
Together Through the Dark showcases Cleaves’ canny artistry, his expansive storytelling, and his sinuous lyricism. It’s always a treat to have a new album from Slaid Cleaves, and Together Through the Dark is a welcome gift.
Together Through the Dark is available HERE.
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