Still Fighting the War
by Slaid Cleaves
This is my town
Out in the rust belt fields
We were bangin’ out Buicks and Oldsmobiles
There was always a job
And the money was there
Some say we got a little lazy
Nobody seemed to care
But they figured it out
And sent the elbow grease
Down to Mexico and off to the Chinese
And I learned a little something
‘Bout how things are
No one remembers your name just for workin’ hard
No one may remember their names, but Slaid Cleaves has commemorated them and others who have found that life in America these days is about perseverance in his superb new album, Still Fighting the War.
2013 has been a good year for those, like me, who enjoy singer-songwriter music. For example, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s record, “Old Yellow Moon” delivered the sweet fruit of a lifetime of collaboration, while Steve Martin and Edie Brickell formed a new duo, giving us the delightful “Love Has Come For You.”
Cleaves’ new record excels them all, and will be a strong candidate for my album of the year. As one review described it, this is an “album populated with gritty, dirt-under-nails songs about factory workers, war vets, union jobs, small town life and derailed dreams…” In my humble opinion, Cleaves’ work here rivals that of any songwriter alive with its poignant, poetic journey through the American blue collar landscape.
Hard times coming home now
Can’t get your feet on the ground
Got some issues, and no one wants you around
Barely sleeping and you can’t get through
To the VA on the phone
No one’s hiring, and no one wants to give you a loan
And everyone else is carrying on
Just like they’ve always done before
You’ve been home for a coupla years now, buddy
But you’re still fighting the war
Slaid Cleaves knows how to turn a phrase, with little gems like the vivid “there she was, gone” and the paradoxical “she had a whim of iron,” which anchors a spirited ditty about a dreamer who won’t take no for an answer and gets her way, all the way to becoming a successful state politician. There’s the passionate tribute to his father, who worked with “humble pride” — “My father built his world on bone, muscle and blood, and welding burns.” I grin and laugh out loud as Cleaves builds anticipation for each new rhyme in the brilliant “Texas Love Song” — my favorite line of which is, “There’s no brighter star in all the multiplexes.” His evocative voice also knows how to catch your attention. Lyrics like “you’re in the rain” become a plaintive lament. And when he says, “I bet she does,” it is with a mixture of dismissal and longing that tugs at your heart.
With its tight arrangements, melodic tunes, and most of all, its keen insight into the soul of the American heartland, Slaid Cleaves’ new release, Still Fighting the War is my favorite album of the year so far. I’ll be thinking about these people, dreaming about them, praying for them. They are my neighbors and yours, and I’m glad Slaid Cleaves has remembered them.
Here is the title cut, “Still Fighting the War.” As a way of helping our veterans and their families you can go Slaid Cleaves’ website and download a copy of the audio version while making a donation to Operation Homefront.