You can tell very quickly when listening to a new album that it is something special. Most singer/songwriters to one degree or another have some to say and do the best they can to say it. With some the writing, through experience or insight, takes it to a more lyrical and poetic level. Mark down Slaid Cleeves as one of those. His body of work is testament to his skill as both songwriter and as a distinctive singer.
Cleeves uses three different producers on this album and it is telling that his focus means that the album comes across as a cohesive whole. If you didn't read the credits it would be difficult to distinguish the different players and producers. Former Highwayman (no, not the famous ones) Scappy Jud Newcomb utilises a tight combo for his songs while Mark Hallman tends to be a one man band bringing in an additional player as required. These two handle the bulk of the production with two tracks further tracks helmed by veteran Lloyd Maines.
The songs are memorable with many sticking around long after they're played such as the story of a couple facing hard times in Hometown USA. The humorous Texas Love Song with it's clinching line "I Love you more than Texas". The title song considers the hardship faced by returning veterans who leave part of themselves back in the war zones they have physically left. Like life there is humour as well as hostility and acceptance in these songs. Most are written solo, some with co-writers. A couple are written with his friend and equally talented singer/songwriter Rod Picott. Welding Burns has appeared on a Picott album too but as a tribute to a working father it's full of realism and like many of the songs paint a true portrait of the characters who people the songs with their worries and dreams.
God's Own Yodeler is a tribute to the late Don Walser, the man they called "the Pavarotti of the Plains". It also finds Cleeves himself in fine yodelling form. Maines' pedal steel underlines the song's subject devotion to pure country music. Throughout these songs are concise and clear. They bring the words to life in the way that only the best storytellers can. Although there are three producers and there is an overall consistency, as mentioned, it would be wrong to say that each of the producers doesn't bring something different to the mix. But the end result is perhaps the best album that Cleeves has produced to date and he is right up there with his heroes and mine. Still Fighting The War is a frontline album that should cement Cleeves reputation as one of the (really) good guys.