Slaid Cleaves

Slaid Cleaves

Slaid Cleaves is known as a "songwriter's songwriter," which is usually a polite way of saying "he can't sing."

But there's no need for decorum with the Maine-born, Austin-based troubadour: For all of his command of songcraft, Cleaves would still be working as a pharmaceutical guinea pig were it not for his warm, gently burred tenor. He phrases like a grifter trying to croon away his low-down past—and writes like he knows he never will. When his new folkie peers see angels over every other barista's shoulder, Cleaves sees through sentiment. "I've been chasing grace, but grace ain't so easily found," he sings on "One Good Year," just one of many subtle, momentary stays against the dark side of his heart. That heart doesn't bleed easily—but when it does, it bleeds true.

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