Texas based troubadour Slaid Cleeves played his first Irish date in some time at this Dalkey venue. Appearing solo he was promoting his latest album Still Fighting The War. From that fine album he sang the title track, Welding Burns, Whim Of Iron, God's Own Yodeler and Texas Love Song - the latter he played for promoter Liz Hurley whose birthday it was that night.
Cleeves is a storyteller of the old school and his songs soon seep into the collective consciousness of the audience and he has them listening to every word. Not all the songs are written by Cleeves, many are co-writes and others such as Lydia and Flower Dresses were written by Karen Posten. Another co-writer and longtime friend is Rod Picott. Cleeves told how they grew up together and formed a garage band The Magic Rats. The band, he told us, made up for a certain lack of skill in sheer volume. Picott's father's job was the subject for the song Welding Burns. Since that time both have established careers as singer/songwriters to critical acclaim if not yet a means to large monetry gain.
Along with a selection of some 22 songs he told us about his Aunt Prudence who once appeared on network tv. He lauded one of his heroes Don Wasler and as well as his personal song tribute God's Own Yodeler. A little later he reckoned he introduced his yodel, he played Walser's Texas Top Hand and reckoned his voice had warmed up enough to tackle a full on yodel attack. He delivered it with a passion.
He used to live next to a graveyard at one point and noted how he'd "got to know the neighbours". He was inspired to write the song Temporary based on epitaphs on tombstones he saw or researched.
The location of the venue and it's association with James Joyce prompted him to play three songs in which he had made references to Joyce's writing. He offered a free CD to anyone who spotted them. No one did so he made the aside that there were "no Joyce scholars in the audience" which brought out the reply that the author was "over-rated" - which elicited much laughter. On the poignant side were such standouts as Quick As Dreams about the old-time jockey Tommy Luther. Cleeves and his wife Karen had visited his wife Helen and found her full of "piss and vinegar" as well as stories. The show closed with the dramatic song Breakfast In Hell a seven minute plus song about a log jam in Ontario and a man named Sandy Grey who died clearing it. For this he got the audience to sing a "who/ha" section in the middle of the song to give it some additional drama.
It was a fitting climax to a two set evening that emphasised what a compelling writer and singer Slaid Cleeve is.Cleeves albums are full of great musicians but live and solo he is effective in getting the songs across in this stripped down format. He sings of the human condition and those who dwell on the fringes of society. With so much superficiality around (not least on mainstream radio) these days he is a welcome counterpoint, as are many of his (often little-known) contemporaries on the Americana circuit. He will be welcomed back when he next returns to these shores.