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Pitch Talks - Behind The Scenes Stories From Sports Media

Pitch Talks is a casual baseball conference for real fans.

Pitch Talks is a casual baseball conference for real fans.

Marshall Crenshaw y Los Straitjackets.

Marshall Crenshaw y Los Straitjackets combines the shared sensibilities of a pop-rock maestro & a band of guitar-wielding masked marauders.

Marshall Crenshaw learned to tune a guitar at age ten and has been making music ever since. His first big break came in 1978 playing the role of John Lennon in "Beatlemania" on Broadway. Over the course of a career that's spanned nearly four decades, 13 albums, Grammy and Golden Globe nominations, film and TV appearances (Buddy Holly in "La Bamba") and thousands of performances, Crenshaw's musical output has maintained a consistent fidelity to the qualities of artfulness, craftsmanship and passion, and his efforts have been rewarded with the devotion of a broad and remarkably loyal fan base.

"Although he was seen as a latter-day Buddy Holly at the outset, he soon proved too talented and original to be anyone but himself." - Trouser Press

Los Straitjackets are the leading practitioners of the lost art of the guitar instrumental. Using the music of The Ventures, The Shadows, Link Wray and Dick Dale as a jumping off point, the band has taken their unique, high energy brand of original rock & roll around the world. Clad in their trademark Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling masks, the "Jackets" have delivered their trademark guitar licks to 16 albums, thousands of concerts and dozens of films and TV shows.

"...novelty is a key ingredient, but it’s elevated by the band's good-natured sincerity and skill." -NPR World Cafe

Marshall Crenshaw y Los Straitjackets combines the shared sensibilities of a pop-rock maestro & a band of guitar-wielding masked marauders.

Marshall Crenshaw learned to tune a guitar at age ten and has been making music ever since. His first big break came in 1978 playing the role of John Lennon in "Beatlemania" on Broadway. Over the course of a career that's spanned nearly four decades, 13 albums, Grammy and Golden Globe nominations, film and TV appearances (Buddy Holly in "La Bamba") and thousands of performances, Crenshaw's musical output has maintained a consistent fidelity to the qualities of artfulness, craftsmanship and passion, and his efforts have been rewarded with the devotion of a broad and remarkably loyal fan base.

"Although he was seen as a latter-day Buddy Holly at the outset, he soon proved too talented and original to be anyone but himself." - Trouser Press

Los Straitjackets are the leading practitioners of the lost art of the guitar instrumental. Using the music of The Ventures, The Shadows, Link Wray and Dick Dale as a jumping off point, the band has taken their unique, high energy brand of original rock & roll around the world. Clad in their trademark Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling masks, the "Jackets" have delivered their trademark guitar licks to 16 albums, thousands of concerts and dozens of films and TV shows.

"...novelty is a key ingredient, but it’s elevated by the band's good-natured sincerity and skill." -NPR World Cafe

BJ Barham - The Great 48 Tour

B.J. Barham was a long way from home when the tragedy happened.

On November 13, 2015, the singer-songwriter-raised in a small North Carolina town called Reidsville-was in the middle of his fourth European tour with American Aquarium, the rising alt-country act he'd led for nearly a decade. They were in Belgium, less than two hours from Paris, when bad news began to arrive: a series of terrorist attacks, including one in a rock club, had left more than 100 dead. Family members, friends, and the fans American Aquarium had amassed from so many years on the road immediately reached out, making sure the band had been far away.

"The onslaught of text messages, voicemails and everything that came in the next day sparked something in me," Barham remembers. "In the next two days, the entire record was written."

The record he's talking about is Rockingham, Barham's remarkable and intensely personal solo debut. Not long after the wave of well wishes had passed, Barham found himself piecing together composites of people he'd known since childhood, of those folks and places who had impacted his life in fundamental ways. He sang into his cell phone and scribbled in notebooks, stealing away for quiet moments in order to put the melodies and characters floating through his mind into song.

The shock of the moment and the distance from home seemed to give Barham a crucial perspective on the moments and circumstances that had helped shape him. Wolves, American Aquarium's much-lauded 2015 breakthrough, had contained Barham's most honest, vulnerable statements to date. But these songs took the next step, allowing Barham to share stories about those around him. In "O'Lover," he portrays a hard-working farmer forced to make some desperate decisions to support the ones he loves. In "Reidsville," named for the place he'd called his home until relocating to North Carolina's capital, he immortalized beautiful, sweet, doomed souls, stuck in love in the sort of small towns that are disintegrating all across America. You needn't have been to Reidsville to recognize these elegantly written, expertly realized protagonists.

"This is the first record I've ever made that's not autobiographical-it's fictional narrative in a very real place," Barham says. "These songs are human condition stories set in my hometown, Reidsville."

Barham made these songs his new priority. Not long after he returned stateside, he asked Bradley Cook, the musician and mentor who had co-produced Wolves, to hear them. By afternoon's end, they had hatched the plan to make Rockingham. Two months later, on January 31, Barham returned from another American Aquarium tour.

On Monday, he and the band he'd built to record Rockingham-himself, Cook, Cook's brother and multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook, drummer Kyle Keegan, American Aquarium standbys Ryan Johnson and Whit Wright-met for the first time. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they rehearsed. And on Thursday and Friday, they cut all eight songs at Durham's Overdub Lane. They mixed the results over the weekend, between the sold-out hometown shows and various festivities of American Aquarium's annual pilgrimage, Roadtrip to Raleigh. Cialis The whirlwind kept the songs simple and the recordings human, reflecting a reality much bigger and less perfect than the vacuum of a recording studio.

These tunes, after all, didn't need much tampering. Rockingham puts its scenes and scenarios front and center, the beautiful grain and twang of Barham's voice bringing it all to life. He limns lifelong romance and instantaneous tragedy during the paradoxically heartbreaking, heart-mending "Unfortunate Kind" and details the disappointments and dreams of the blue-collar laborer with "American Tobacco Company." With its acoustic guitars and pealing organs, ragged vocals and rugged characters, Rockingham is a stunning, personal portrait of small-town America, easily identifiable and familiar.

For the album's sole autobiographical moment, Barham, now happily married and sober, penned a letter of sound advice and Southern attitude to his daughter-to-be, "Madeline." It's too personal to fall under a roots-rock purview, too singular to be swallowed by a larger situation. Like all of Rockingham, it's not the sound of Barham stepping away from American Aquarium but instead stepping confidently into the thoughts, stories, and feelings of his own thirty years.

"This is just an outlet for a songwriter. It's me being able to do something different. This is like people who love their jobs, picking up hobbies," says Barham, "This is an exercise for myself."

B.J. Barham was a long way from home when the tragedy happened.

On November 13, 2015, the singer-songwriter-raised in a small North Carolina town called Reidsville-was in the middle of his fourth European tour with American Aquarium, the rising alt-country act he'd led for nearly a decade. They were in Belgium, less than two hours from Paris, when bad news began to arrive: a series of terrorist attacks, including one in a rock club, had left more than 100 dead. Family members, friends, and the fans American Aquarium had amassed from so many years on the road immediately reached out, making sure the band had been far away.

"The onslaught of text messages, voicemails and everything that came in the next day sparked something in me," Barham remembers. "In the next two days, the entire record was written."

The record he's talking about is Rockingham, Barham's remarkable and intensely personal solo debut. Not long after the wave of well wishes had passed, Barham found himself piecing together composites of people he'd known since childhood, of those folks and places who had impacted his life in fundamental ways. He sang into his cell phone and scribbled in notebooks, stealing away for quiet moments in order to put the melodies and characters floating through his mind into song.

The shock of the moment and the distance from home seemed to give Barham a crucial perspective on the moments and circumstances that had helped shape him. Wolves, American Aquarium's much-lauded 2015 breakthrough, had contained Barham's most honest, vulnerable statements to date. But these songs took the next step, allowing Barham to share stories about those around him. In "O'Lover," he portrays a hard-working farmer forced to make some desperate decisions to support the ones he loves. In "Reidsville," named for the place he'd called his home until relocating to North Carolina's capital, he immortalized beautiful, sweet, doomed souls, stuck in love in the sort of small towns that are disintegrating all across America. You needn't have been to Reidsville to recognize these elegantly written, expertly realized protagonists.

"This is the first record I've ever made that's not autobiographical-it's fictional narrative in a very real place," Barham says. "These songs are human condition stories set in my hometown, Reidsville."

Barham made these songs his new priority. Not long after he returned stateside, he asked Bradley Cook, the musician and mentor who had co-produced Wolves, to hear them. By afternoon's end, they had hatched the plan to make Rockingham. Two months later, on January 31, Barham returned from another American Aquarium tour.

On Monday, he and the band he'd built to record Rockingham-himself, Cook, Cook's brother and multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook, drummer Kyle Keegan, American Aquarium standbys Ryan Johnson and Whit Wright-met for the first time. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they rehearsed. And on Thursday and Friday, they cut all eight songs at Durham's Overdub Lane. They mixed the results over the weekend, between the sold-out hometown shows and various festivities of American Aquarium's annual pilgrimage, Roadtrip to Raleigh. Cialis The whirlwind kept the songs simple and the recordings human, reflecting a reality much bigger and less perfect than the vacuum of a recording studio.

These tunes, after all, didn't need much tampering. Rockingham puts its scenes and scenarios front and center, the beautiful grain and twang of Barham's voice bringing it all to life. He limns lifelong romance and instantaneous tragedy during the paradoxically heartbreaking, heart-mending "Unfortunate Kind" and details the disappointments and dreams of the blue-collar laborer with "American Tobacco Company." With its acoustic guitars and pealing organs, ragged vocals and rugged characters, Rockingham is a stunning, personal portrait of small-town America, easily identifiable and familiar.

For the album's sole autobiographical moment, Barham, now happily married and sober, penned a letter of sound advice and Southern attitude to his daughter-to-be, "Madeline." It's too personal to fall under a roots-rock purview, too singular to be swallowed by a larger situation. Like all of Rockingham, it's not the sound of Barham stepping away from American Aquarium but instead stepping confidently into the thoughts, stories, and feelings of his own thirty years.

"This is just an outlet for a songwriter. It's me being able to do something different. This is like people who love their jobs, picking up hobbies," says Barham, "This is an exercise for myself."

(Early Show) Mutlu

Mutlu is a soulful, singer-songwriter. A Philadelphia native and first-generation American of Turkish descent, Mutlu has already built a substantial fan base in his hometown, while winning widespread praise for his prior releases.

He's collaborated and toured extensively as a support act with legendary duo Daryl Hall & John Oates and holds the distinction of having made the most guest appearances on Daryl Hall's acclaimed, award-winning TV/Internet show "Live From Daryl's House". He's also gained considerable attention for his work with noted singer-songwriter Amos Lee, with whom he's toured extensively as a support act and backup vocalist. He was the support act on the North American leg of Joe Jackson's acclaimed "Rain" tour and has shared stages with the likes of Adele, Katy Perry, John Hiatt, Leon Russell, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Todd Rundgren, Shuggie Otis & many more.

Born Mutlu Onaral, he grew up steeped in Philadelphia's deep R&B traditions, eagerly absorbing the fundamentals of old-school soul music and incorporating it into his own musical persona. His local success led to a recording deal with Manhattan/EMI Records, which released his acclaimed 2008 debut album Livin' It, produced by the late, great T-Bone Wolk, and featuring guest appearances by Daryl Hall, Amos Lee, G. Love and Raheem DeVaughn. His latest release is the Hypnotize EP which he co-produced with songwriter/producer Darius Amendolia.

Mutlu is a soulful, singer-songwriter. A Philadelphia native and first-generation American of Turkish descent, Mutlu has already built a substantial fan base in his hometown, while winning widespread praise for his prior releases.

He's collaborated and toured extensively as a support act with legendary duo Daryl Hall & John Oates and holds the distinction of having made the most guest appearances on Daryl Hall's acclaimed, award-winning TV/Internet show "Live From Daryl's House". He's also gained considerable attention for his work with noted singer-songwriter Amos Lee, with whom he's toured extensively as a support act and backup vocalist. He was the support act on the North American leg of Joe Jackson's acclaimed "Rain" tour and has shared stages with the likes of Adele, Katy Perry, John Hiatt, Leon Russell, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Todd Rundgren, Shuggie Otis & many more.

Born Mutlu Onaral, he grew up steeped in Philadelphia's deep R&B traditions, eagerly absorbing the fundamentals of old-school soul music and incorporating it into his own musical persona. His local success led to a recording deal with Manhattan/EMI Records, which released his acclaimed 2008 debut album Livin' It, produced by the late, great T-Bone Wolk, and featuring guest appearances by Daryl Hall, Amos Lee, G. Love and Raheem DeVaughn. His latest release is the Hypnotize EP which he co-produced with songwriter/producer Darius Amendolia.

Missy Raines & The New Hip

At first listen to New Frontier, you’d sooner peg Missy Raines as an Americana bandleader, rather than one of the most highly decorated bass players in bluegrass music. For the first time, Raines explores her dusky, emotive alto on each track, layered among the cool grooves and expansive soundscapes provided by her band, The New Hip: guitarist/co-producer Ethan Ballinger, mandolinist/acoustic guitarist Jarrod Walker and drummer/percussionist Josh Fox. These 10 tracks draw from songs written by Pierce Pettis, Sarah Siskind, Ed Snodderly and even Raines herself, and are driven home with the help of several genre-bending friends, including Sam Bush, Zach Bevill of the Farewell Drifters, and former New Hip drummer Robert Crawford.

For Raines, the album was a journey to find her voice, figuratively as well as literally. It cuts to the quick, opening with the subtle rock and sweeping reverb of Ballinger’s guitar on “I Learn,” while Raines’ lyrics resound the album’s empowering message: Follow your heart. It will not be easy and it will not be painless, but if you do it, it is absolutely worth it. “A lot of these songs share a common theme about renewal, pushing yourself out there, taking the past and letting it be the support underneath you, but continuing to go forward. Some days it’s painful, sometimes growth hurts a lot,” says Raines.

Raines’ journey and consequential growing pains permeate the album. “Where You Found Me,” plays like a diary entry to the singer’s former self, the folky Pierce Pettis-penned “Long Way Back Home” searches for perspective, and the title track teeters on the verge of epiphany and self-discovery: “I’m scared of going/but I know I can’t stay here/I see the light of the morning/the first day of a new frontier.” Sam Bush lends his mighty mandolin and vocals to the rockin’ “What’s the Callin’ For” and the sparse mandolin on “American Crow” features Raines, Ballinger, and Walker’s sweet harmonies that close the album in a reverential moment of reflection.

Though why the change for the bluegrass bass virtuoso who now so comfortably transposes to the Folk-Americana genre? “I don’t see it as a change as much as I see it as natural evolution…my bluegrass roots are strong and deep but I’ve tried to expand my horizons and see what else I can do. Exploration is a great way to put it – Inside Out was that for sure, but this is way more focused. I am very open about everything, all the possibilities, and it is a great new place to be.”

The sonic landscape is impressive and polished as well – Raines and co-producer Ethan Ballinger wanted to fully utilize their bluegrass instrumentation in a way that resonated with the album’s somewhat heavier subject matter: “Obviously this was going to be about songs and not about hot picking. At the same time the instrumentation was like, ‘how do we make this not sound like some kind of novelty.’ This is the sound we’ve been arriving at over the last few years, it’s the sound of the band,” says Ballinger.

New Frontier’s inspiring message of exploration and growth resonates with the listener, imploring them to listen again and take the message to heart. Raines shares that, “at many levels, you keep doing what you need to do because you have to. Because there’s just no other option. The good news is that if you keep doing it, you will prevail.”

Some background on Missy
Missy Raines is a 7-time recipient of the Bass Player of the Year Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association and a former member of the Grammy-nominated Claire Lynch Band and the acclaimed duo Jim Hurst & Missy Raines.
She is one of the most respected, popular, and trailblazing figures in bluegrass.

Her rich pedigree reaches from legends such as Mac Wiseman, Kenny Baker, Josh Graves, and Eddie & Martha Adcock, to contemporary artists such as Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis, Dudley Connell, Don Rigsby, and the Brother Boys.

At first listen to New Frontier, you’d sooner peg Missy Raines as an Americana bandleader, rather than one of the most highly decorated bass players in bluegrass music. For the first time, Raines explores her dusky, emotive alto on each track, layered among the cool grooves and expansive soundscapes provided by her band, The New Hip: guitarist/co-producer Ethan Ballinger, mandolinist/acoustic guitarist Jarrod Walker and drummer/percussionist Josh Fox. These 10 tracks draw from songs written by Pierce Pettis, Sarah Siskind, Ed Snodderly and even Raines herself, and are driven home with the help of several genre-bending friends, including Sam Bush, Zach Bevill of the Farewell Drifters, and former New Hip drummer Robert Crawford.

For Raines, the album was a journey to find her voice, figuratively as well as literally. It cuts to the quick, opening with the subtle rock and sweeping reverb of Ballinger’s guitar on “I Learn,” while Raines’ lyrics resound the album’s empowering message: Follow your heart. It will not be easy and it will not be painless, but if you do it, it is absolutely worth it. “A lot of these songs share a common theme about renewal, pushing yourself out there, taking the past and letting it be the support underneath you, but continuing to go forward. Some days it’s painful, sometimes growth hurts a lot,” says Raines.

Raines’ journey and consequential growing pains permeate the album. “Where You Found Me,” plays like a diary entry to the singer’s former self, the folky Pierce Pettis-penned “Long Way Back Home” searches for perspective, and the title track teeters on the verge of epiphany and self-discovery: “I’m scared of going/but I know I can’t stay here/I see the light of the morning/the first day of a new frontier.” Sam Bush lends his mighty mandolin and vocals to the rockin’ “What’s the Callin’ For” and the sparse mandolin on “American Crow” features Raines, Ballinger, and Walker’s sweet harmonies that close the album in a reverential moment of reflection.

Though why the change for the bluegrass bass virtuoso who now so comfortably transposes to the Folk-Americana genre? “I don’t see it as a change as much as I see it as natural evolution…my bluegrass roots are strong and deep but I’ve tried to expand my horizons and see what else I can do. Exploration is a great way to put it – Inside Out was that for sure, but this is way more focused. I am very open about everything, all the possibilities, and it is a great new place to be.”

The sonic landscape is impressive and polished as well – Raines and co-producer Ethan Ballinger wanted to fully utilize their bluegrass instrumentation in a way that resonated with the album’s somewhat heavier subject matter: “Obviously this was going to be about songs and not about hot picking. At the same time the instrumentation was like, ‘how do we make this not sound like some kind of novelty.’ This is the sound we’ve been arriving at over the last few years, it’s the sound of the band,” says Ballinger.

New Frontier’s inspiring message of exploration and growth resonates with the listener, imploring them to listen again and take the message to heart. Raines shares that, “at many levels, you keep doing what you need to do because you have to. Because there’s just no other option. The good news is that if you keep doing it, you will prevail.”

Some background on Missy
Missy Raines is a 7-time recipient of the Bass Player of the Year Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association and a former member of the Grammy-nominated Claire Lynch Band and the acclaimed duo Jim Hurst & Missy Raines.
She is one of the most respected, popular, and trailblazing figures in bluegrass.

Her rich pedigree reaches from legends such as Mac Wiseman, Kenny Baker, Josh Graves, and Eddie & Martha Adcock, to contemporary artists such as Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis, Dudley Connell, Don Rigsby, and the Brother Boys.

Slaid Cleaves

Slaid Cleaves spins stories with a novelist's eye and a poet's heart. Twenty years into his career, the celebrated songwriter's Still Fighting the War spotlights an artist in peak form. Cleaves' seamless new collection delivers vivid snapshots as wildly cinematic as they are carefully chiseled. Dress William Faulkner with faded jeans and a worn six-string for a good idea. "Slaid's a craftsman," says Terri Hendrix, who sings harmony on "Texas Love Song." "He goes about his songs like a woodworker."

Accordingly, Cleaves' earthy narratives stand oak strong. "Men go off to war for a hundred reasons/But they all come home with the same demons," he sings on the album's title track. "Some you can keep at bay for a while/Some will pin you to the floor/You've been home for a couple of years now, buddy/But you're still fighting the war." Few writers frame bruised souls as clearly. Fewer still deliver a punch with such striking immediacy.

"I started ‘Still Fighting the War' four years ago and originally each verse was a separate character," Cleaves explains. "Each verse was about getting swindled. One was about the economy, one was about a returning veteran, one was about a broken-up couple. It was too cumbersome, so I focused in on the soldier. The key that made it all work came as I was talking to my friend and occasional co-writer, Ron Coy. A troubled Vietnam vet buddy of his had recently passed away. Ron said, ‘All this time, it was like he was still fighting the war.' I knew instantly that was the perfect way to summarize the song."

Cleaves delivers equal measures of hope and resignation throughout this 2013 release as life lessons slide subtly through side doors. "Normally when I start writing a new batch, a theme starts to emerge after three or four songs," says Cleaves, who built an unlikely success story from scratch after moving to Austin, Texas, from Maine two decades ago. "This time around I thought, I'm just gonna write where the muse takes me and each song will be its own thing. So I ended up with a CD that has a bit more variety on it compared to my previous releases. Half the songs are about struggle and perseverance and half are all over the place, some tongue-in-cheek stuff, a gospel song, a Texas pride song."

Witness deft wordplay on the latter: "Your wit's as sharp as a prickly pear/The sun shines in your golden hair/Your smile hits me right in the solar plexus," Cleaves sings with a wink in "Texas Love Song." "Skin as soft as early morning rain/Temper like a Gulf Coast hurricane/I love you even more than I love Texas." "Originally, the phrase was ‘I love you almost as much as I love Texas,'" Cleaves says, "because that's about as far as a true proud Texan will go. Then I realized that if I committed the sin of saying ‘I love you even more than I love Texas,' it trips off the tongue better. It was a fun little challenge to come up with so many rhymes for ‘Texas.'"


Of course, Cleaves conquered the task. Longtime fans expect nothing less. After all, Still Fighting the War follows the razor sharp songwriter's undeniable hat trick – Broke Down (2000), Wishbones (2004) and Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (2009) – that established him as a singular storyteller. His golden key: effortlessly shading dark with light. Cue Cleaves' excellent double-disc Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge for inarguable evidence ("Drinkin' Days," "Wishbones," "Horseshoe Lounge").

"You get a lot of the man behind the lyrics," Hendrix says. "What you see with Slaid is what you get: He doesn't have the eyes of a cynic. He has optimism about him through a realistic gaze and writes with a wise voice." The Kerrville Folk Festival recognized those intangible qualities long ago when Cleaves won its hallowed New Folk award in 1992. He's doubled down ever since with literate story songs exponentially more mature and meaningful.

Consider one other new high water mark. "But they figured it out/And shipped the elbow grease/Down to Mexico/And off to the Chinese," Cleaves sings on the haunting meditation "Rust Belt Fields." "And I learned a little something 'bout how things are/No one remembers your name just for working hard." Childhood friend Rod Picott co-wrote those potent lines - the duo has split pages on several indelible blue-collar vignettes over the years ("Broke Down," "Sinner's Prayer," "Bring It On," "Black T-shirt").

"Slaid is my favorite co-writer," says Picott, who also co-wrote the new album's standout "Welding Burns." "He's a smart writer with a gift for wringing the most out of a melody. Slaid understands that the song has to rule. He's patient and unwavering in his pursuit of the best." Cleaves humbly accepts the praise. "Despite the odds, through persistence and good fortune I've carved out a niche for myself," he says. "You could say I have a ‘Whim of Iron.'"

Slaid Cleaves spins stories with a novelist's eye and a poet's heart. Twenty years into his career, the celebrated songwriter's Still Fighting the War spotlights an artist in peak form. Cleaves' seamless new collection delivers vivid snapshots as wildly cinematic as they are carefully chiseled. Dress William Faulkner with faded jeans and a worn six-string for a good idea. "Slaid's a craftsman," says Terri Hendrix, who sings harmony on "Texas Love Song." "He goes about his songs like a woodworker."

Accordingly, Cleaves' earthy narratives stand oak strong. "Men go off to war for a hundred reasons/But they all come home with the same demons," he sings on the album's title track. "Some you can keep at bay for a while/Some will pin you to the floor/You've been home for a couple of years now, buddy/But you're still fighting the war." Few writers frame bruised souls as clearly. Fewer still deliver a punch with such striking immediacy.

"I started ‘Still Fighting the War' four years ago and originally each verse was a separate character," Cleaves explains. "Each verse was about getting swindled. One was about the economy, one was about a returning veteran, one was about a broken-up couple. It was too cumbersome, so I focused in on the soldier. The key that made it all work came as I was talking to my friend and occasional co-writer, Ron Coy. A troubled Vietnam vet buddy of his had recently passed away. Ron said, ‘All this time, it was like he was still fighting the war.' I knew instantly that was the perfect way to summarize the song."

Cleaves delivers equal measures of hope and resignation throughout this 2013 release as life lessons slide subtly through side doors. "Normally when I start writing a new batch, a theme starts to emerge after three or four songs," says Cleaves, who built an unlikely success story from scratch after moving to Austin, Texas, from Maine two decades ago. "This time around I thought, I'm just gonna write where the muse takes me and each song will be its own thing. So I ended up with a CD that has a bit more variety on it compared to my previous releases. Half the songs are about struggle and perseverance and half are all over the place, some tongue-in-cheek stuff, a gospel song, a Texas pride song."

Witness deft wordplay on the latter: "Your wit's as sharp as a prickly pear/The sun shines in your golden hair/Your smile hits me right in the solar plexus," Cleaves sings with a wink in "Texas Love Song." "Skin as soft as early morning rain/Temper like a Gulf Coast hurricane/I love you even more than I love Texas." "Originally, the phrase was ‘I love you almost as much as I love Texas,'" Cleaves says, "because that's about as far as a true proud Texan will go. Then I realized that if I committed the sin of saying ‘I love you even more than I love Texas,' it trips off the tongue better. It was a fun little challenge to come up with so many rhymes for ‘Texas.'"


Of course, Cleaves conquered the task. Longtime fans expect nothing less. After all, Still Fighting the War follows the razor sharp songwriter's undeniable hat trick – Broke Down (2000), Wishbones (2004) and Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (2009) – that established him as a singular storyteller. His golden key: effortlessly shading dark with light. Cue Cleaves' excellent double-disc Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge for inarguable evidence ("Drinkin' Days," "Wishbones," "Horseshoe Lounge").

"You get a lot of the man behind the lyrics," Hendrix says. "What you see with Slaid is what you get: He doesn't have the eyes of a cynic. He has optimism about him through a realistic gaze and writes with a wise voice." The Kerrville Folk Festival recognized those intangible qualities long ago when Cleaves won its hallowed New Folk award in 1992. He's doubled down ever since with literate story songs exponentially more mature and meaningful.

Consider one other new high water mark. "But they figured it out/And shipped the elbow grease/Down to Mexico/And off to the Chinese," Cleaves sings on the haunting meditation "Rust Belt Fields." "And I learned a little something 'bout how things are/No one remembers your name just for working hard." Childhood friend Rod Picott co-wrote those potent lines - the duo has split pages on several indelible blue-collar vignettes over the years ("Broke Down," "Sinner's Prayer," "Bring It On," "Black T-shirt").

"Slaid is my favorite co-writer," says Picott, who also co-wrote the new album's standout "Welding Burns." "He's a smart writer with a gift for wringing the most out of a melody. Slaid understands that the song has to rule. He's patient and unwavering in his pursuit of the best." Cleaves humbly accepts the praise. "Despite the odds, through persistence and good fortune I've carved out a niche for myself," he says. "You could say I have a ‘Whim of Iron.'"

Pigpen Theatre Co.

PigPen Theatre Co. began creating their unique brand of theatre, music, and film as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. Their debut album, "Bremen", was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post's 2012 Grammy preview sending PigPen on tour playing to sold-out crowds across the country. American Songwriter premiered their follow-up EP, "The Way I'm Running", in 2013 while the band was playing a series of concerts that became one of the most popular residencies of the past decade at the legendary Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago. In 2015 PigPen released their sophomore album, "Whole Sun", performed at Mumford & Sons' return to the Gentlemen of the Road Festival, and made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme's "Ricki and the Flash" starring Meryl Streep. They are currently writing their debut children's novel and performing Shakespeare's Pericles directed by Sir Trevor Nunn at Theatre For A New Audience in Brooklyn, NY.

PigPen Theatre Co. began creating their unique brand of theatre, music, and film as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. Their debut album, "Bremen", was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post's 2012 Grammy preview sending PigPen on tour playing to sold-out crowds across the country. American Songwriter premiered their follow-up EP, "The Way I'm Running", in 2013 while the band was playing a series of concerts that became one of the most popular residencies of the past decade at the legendary Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago. In 2015 PigPen released their sophomore album, "Whole Sun", performed at Mumford & Sons' return to the Gentlemen of the Road Festival, and made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme's "Ricki and the Flash" starring Meryl Streep. They are currently writing their debut children's novel and performing Shakespeare's Pericles directed by Sir Trevor Nunn at Theatre For A New Audience in Brooklyn, NY.

Pigpen Theatre Co.

PigPen Theatre Co. began creating their unique brand of theatre, music, and film as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. Their debut album, "Bremen", was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post's 2012 Grammy preview sending PigPen on tour playing to sold-out crowds across the country. American Songwriter premiered their follow-up EP, "The Way I'm Running", in 2013 while the band was playing a series of concerts that became one of the most popular residencies of the past decade at the legendary Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago. In 2015 PigPen released their sophomore album, "Whole Sun", performed at Mumford & Sons' return to the Gentlemen of the Road Festival, and made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme's "Ricki and the Flash" starring Meryl Streep. They are currently writing their debut children's novel and performing Shakespeare's Pericles directed by Sir Trevor Nunn at Theatre For A New Audience in Brooklyn, NY.

PigPen Theatre Co. began creating their unique brand of theatre, music, and film as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. Their debut album, "Bremen", was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post's 2012 Grammy preview sending PigPen on tour playing to sold-out crowds across the country. American Songwriter premiered their follow-up EP, "The Way I'm Running", in 2013 while the band was playing a series of concerts that became one of the most popular residencies of the past decade at the legendary Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago. In 2015 PigPen released their sophomore album, "Whole Sun", performed at Mumford & Sons' return to the Gentlemen of the Road Festival, and made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme's "Ricki and the Flash" starring Meryl Streep. They are currently writing their debut children's novel and performing Shakespeare's Pericles directed by Sir Trevor Nunn at Theatre For A New Audience in Brooklyn, NY.

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56-58 South 12th Street, Pittsburgh PA 15203 (In Pittsburgh’s Historic South Side)