ALBUM REVIEW: Slaid Cleaves "Sorrow And Smoke: Live At The Horseshoe Lounge"

Music reviewers can usually find much to criticize on 2-disc live albums. However, Slaid Cleaves makes the job very hard on his excellent new, 22-track album titled “Sorrow& Smoke" which was recorded live at Austin's famed Horseshoe Lounge.
Slaid Cleaves begins the set with the terrific "Hard To Believe," which has a melodic chorus featuring Cleaves' outstanding vocals. Indeed, Slaid Cleaves vocals are so pure and natural that it is somewhat difficult to distinguish the vocals from his studio albums and the live album - except for the generally acoustic nature of the 2-disc set.

The artist's famous ode to the site of the live recording, "Horseshoe Lounge," is up next, and the crowd is eating up the renowned cut like horses eating hay. Indeed, this cut is one of the liveliest on the album.

However, at his core, Slaid Cleaves is a folk troubadour, which is on full display on "Drinkin' Days" and "Black T-Shirt." However, it is the traditional country/Americana track "Tumbleweed Stew" that really sparkles in the live format. Likewise, the quiet "Sinner's Prayer" offers a vocal performance by Cleaves that is both mysterious and potently persuasive.

The second disc begins with the song "Cry," which offers an engaging trumpet solo that is unique for a folk/Americana cut. However, the best track on the album is love song "Green Mountains And Me," which showcases every element that makes Slaid Cleaves great - including his engaging songwriting style and a vocal performance style which offers subtle differences in color, tone and feeling.

The quirky "Horses" is a pleasing track that is well-suited to be paired with the next cuts "Texas Top Hand" and "Rolling Stone From Texas." The dark "Breakfast In Hell" showcases a more throaty vocal offering from Slaid Cleaves that gives special resonance to the delivery of the story in song.

The 93-minute album ends with Slaid Cleaves singing "One Good Year" and  the final track "Go For The Gold." On "One Good Year," Cleaves delivers a perfect performance to the appreciative crowd. Finally, "Go For The Gold" gives country fans a traditional song that will leave listeners aching for more.

"Sorrow & Smoke: Live At The Horseshoe Lounge" is a masterful set that exposes the low-key folk singer as the fine live performance artist that his convert audiences already recognized him to be. Indeed, ticket sales for future Slaid Cleaves concerts will likely be grabbed up faster than corn on the cob at the Iowa State Fair.