Borderline London 1st May 2002

An appropriately named venue and a red letter Mayday in London saw black flags and street riots and a lively crowd gathering to see one of America's finest songwriters perform with long time guitar slinging sidekick Andrew Hardin. As always there was no question of a no show or even a slightly under par performance from two consummate artists. There aren't many superlatives left in the bottom draw when it comes to this guy. For any fortunate to have followed his progress across the last couple of decades since his fateful meeting in a cab with the Grateful Dead's Robert Hunter this was pure bliss. Put simply when it comes to writing great songs this guy leaves more songs in the locker than most artist get to write in a lifetime. So tonight we didn't get the sublime U.S.Steel or The Road to Bayamon but what we did get was a banquet anyway. The table was set by a good performance by V-Roy Scott Miller who looks like he'd be well worth catching again showing touches of both Jackson Browne and Dylan in a harmonica fuelled performance. Then we got the real starters from Russell with Steve Young co-write Angel of Lyon and St.Olav's Gate - two euro-country tunes reflecting his wide travels with guitar in hand. Then Sitting Bull in Venice from recent magnum opus The Man From God Knows Where which is a masterpiece and an essential record for anyone wanting to know where the art of American song-writing is at post-millennium. On and on the non-'hits' came at us. At times the only useful comparison was to the songs of those other masters of poetic Americana John Stewart and Lucinda Williams. A Touch of Evil bounced by before more west coast songs in California Snow and Out in California. It was a faultless performance, as good as any he has given here and a receptive crowd clapped him to the rafters. Then whilst the main course was slowly being digested he hit us with a crop of new songs as a fitting desert. One, which may be called The Dog Barks, The Caravan Moves On, was brilliant. Then a Andrew Hardin song - Last Train From Our Valley? and a fine rendition of classic Drivin' Nails In My Coffin. The crowd was feeling pretty bloated but just about managed to shout for their favourites at encore time. Russell duly delivered the after dinner coffee and mints with the inevitable Gallo de Ciello ( surely the greatest song about a rooster ever after that little red one) another new song…and parting shot Sinatra played Juarez. Some songwriters you can just sense their depth from their song titles…no moon and june here …more like William Faulkner fronting Bill Halley's Comets. Hell why he ain't a goddam shooting star already is beyond me. So next time he spins around, revolution or no, check him out, and check out that extensive back catalogue cos there ain't much filler, it's all substance. Home-cooking not fast food.
Borderline London 20 March 2002
First date of Slaid and his band on a new jaunt round Europe prompted by The Blue Highways festival in Holland and the Borderline is packed. His set at last years Cambridge Folk Festival had obviously worked its magic. Strung out across the 'small yet beautiful' stage are Lucinda Williams producer and sublime electric guitarist and producer Gurf Morlix, an accordion/harp player called Oliver (I think), Slaid on acoustic guitar and finally Ivan Brown on upright bass. So what you get is a pretty good version of the sound found on the two Rounder discs and especially the brilliant 'Broke Down'. More importantly what you get is a first-rate songwriter who leaves you humming his songs on first hearing. An ecstatic Borderline audience sang along on many numbers. That a singer that has completed four years constant touring can come over this fresh and unaffected is a tribute to the quality of the material and the pure showmanship of Mr Cleaves. His songwriting is up there with the a-fore mentioned Lucinda with a yodelling touch of the original Hank. In the mix is folk ballad and gospel country that tips its dusty Stetson to Woody Guthrie and Springsteen. Highlights are hard to pick but the understated Morlix guitar on One Good Year was pretty close or the audience participation in the new folk balladry of Breakfast In Hell. In fact there were more good moments than you could shake a stick at and even the band members songs were cracking as Morlix and Brown showcased their own material. Ever generous Slaid made sure that a forthcoming Karen Poston gig was flagged as he launched into her great Lydia song. More songwriters in Austin than postmen it seems then…must be something in the water. It takes a high degree of professionalism to get a crowd as involved as this and the show never stopped. At encore time we'd had a good selection from the Broke Down set so he dipped back into the back catalogue for The Last Of The V8's, Key Ring ( revisited on Broke Down) and the Del McCoury song I Feel The Blues Moving in ( delivered totally acoustic to a stunned audience). He looked like he could have run on and on better than one of his notorious cars and the crowd left clutching their cds and humming like V-8's. If you want to know where the art of Austin songwriting is right now now then stick your thumb out and hitch a lift with Slaid. He's already mapping out his own Blue Highway and it's a mighty good road to travel.