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pittsburgh, pa
The Black Lillies

The Black Lillies are a band for the ages: rich, rootsy tunes performed with as much heart as technical virtuosity. If you ask them, they’ll tell you they play "Tennessee music" - combining strains of swampy Memphis soul and blues with Nashville’s classic country and East Tennessee’s traditional Appalachian style - while Rolling Stone describes it as "country music with a soul-rock infusion, supported by bandleader Cruz Contreras' smart songwriting and tight musicianship." Either way, it’s music that stirs your soul, touches your heart and makes you want to dance.

The band's latest album, Hard to Please, was an immediate critical and radio success, hitting #1 on the Roots Music Report and #4 on the Americana radio charts as well as debuting at #12 on Billboard Heatseekers and #30 on Billboard's Top 200 Country Albums. American Songwriter summed it up as "a soulful mix of upbeat Americana and tender ballads," while Vanity Fair noted that "their sound continues to cross generations and musical genres - country, folk, blues and add in a touch of the Dead, for good measure." And the bar had already been set high by their previous releases: 2013’s Runaway Freeway Blues conquered the Billboard Top 200 country charts and was selected for dozens of "Best of" lists, catching the attention of NPR, CMT, Wall Street Journal, Guitar World, Garden & Gun and more for what Entertainment Weekly calls "strong roots-folk songwriting, sweet harmonies, and charismatic indie spirit," while 2011's 100 Miles of Wreckage won the Independent Music Award for Americana Album of the Year.

Their raucous live show has earned them festival slots and enthralled audiences at venues ranging from Bonnaroo, New Orleans Jazz Fest and Stagecoach to the legendary Grand Ole Opry. The music is breakneck, brazen and beautiful; sultry soul, honky-tonk heartache, winding jams and flat-out rock'n'roll, tied together with soaring harmonies that "bring back echoes of practically every great male/female duo of the past several decades ... [the sound is] one for the ages, and, one suspects, ages yet to come," according to Glide Magazine.

Make no mistake: when you see The Black Lillies live, you definitely won't be hard to please.

The Black Lillies are a band for the ages: rich, rootsy tunes performed with as much heart as technical virtuosity. If you ask them, they’ll tell you they play "Tennessee music" - combining strains of swampy Memphis soul and blues with Nashville’s classic country and East Tennessee’s traditional Appalachian style - while Rolling Stone describes it as "country music with a soul-rock infusion, supported by bandleader Cruz Contreras' smart songwriting and tight musicianship." Either way, it’s music that stirs your soul, touches your heart and makes you want to dance.

The band's latest album, Hard to Please, was an immediate critical and radio success, hitting #1 on the Roots Music Report and #4 on the Americana radio charts as well as debuting at #12 on Billboard Heatseekers and #30 on Billboard's Top 200 Country Albums. American Songwriter summed it up as "a soulful mix of upbeat Americana and tender ballads," while Vanity Fair noted that "their sound continues to cross generations and musical genres - country, folk, blues and add in a touch of the Dead, for good measure." And the bar had already been set high by their previous releases: 2013’s Runaway Freeway Blues conquered the Billboard Top 200 country charts and was selected for dozens of "Best of" lists, catching the attention of NPR, CMT, Wall Street Journal, Guitar World, Garden & Gun and more for what Entertainment Weekly calls "strong roots-folk songwriting, sweet harmonies, and charismatic indie spirit," while 2011's 100 Miles of Wreckage won the Independent Music Award for Americana Album of the Year.

Their raucous live show has earned them festival slots and enthralled audiences at venues ranging from Bonnaroo, New Orleans Jazz Fest and Stagecoach to the legendary Grand Ole Opry. The music is breakneck, brazen and beautiful; sultry soul, honky-tonk heartache, winding jams and flat-out rock'n'roll, tied together with soaring harmonies that "bring back echoes of practically every great male/female duo of the past several decades ... [the sound is] one for the ages, and, one suspects, ages yet to come," according to Glide Magazine.

Make no mistake: when you see The Black Lillies live, you definitely won't be hard to please.

(Early Show) Matt Light with Special Guest Ray Zawodni

Mine- Matt Light- one of the hottest comedians in the industry today. - takes
every topic in life and twists them on their head with the perfect mix of charm
and tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Now in remission from Hodgkin's Lymphoma, his
new outlook to make people laugh at life and death, and enjoy the silly
observations of that comes with it, is contagious when he's on stage - as told on the front cover of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Matt has his only monthly comedy show case called "Lights out" at the Pittsburgh Improv, he hosts "Man on the street" for WDVE Morning Show and has performed in front of clubs and colleges across the United States. Matt had a viral video from the Pittsburgh Improv that reached over 3 million views, was featured on Good Morning America and he was just recently named Pittsburgh's Best comedian for the third year in a row by Pittsburgh Magazine.

Mine- Matt Light- one of the hottest comedians in the industry today. - takes
every topic in life and twists them on their head with the perfect mix of charm
and tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Now in remission from Hodgkin's Lymphoma, his
new outlook to make people laugh at life and death, and enjoy the silly
observations of that comes with it, is contagious when he's on stage - as told on the front cover of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Matt has his only monthly comedy show case called "Lights out" at the Pittsburgh Improv, he hosts "Man on the street" for WDVE Morning Show and has performed in front of clubs and colleges across the United States. Matt had a viral video from the Pittsburgh Improv that reached over 3 million views, was featured on Good Morning America and he was just recently named Pittsburgh's Best comedian for the third year in a row by Pittsburgh Magazine.

(Late Show) Ray Zawodni with special guest Matt Light

Pittsburgh native, Ray Zawodni has been called a son, a brother, a lover and a loser but he mostly prefers to be called a stand-up comedian. After finishing his fourth year at West Virginia University, the proud Mountaineer returned to the Steel City to pursue a dream that he has had since he was a small child...but when he realized he was too out of shape to be a superhero, he decided to try comedy instead! Over the past 6 years, he has used his devilishly good looks and boyish charm to entertain audiences all over the east coast. Zawodni is a regular performer at the Pittsburgh Improv and the Arcade Comedy Theater.He also performs at colleges across the region including the University of Pittsburgh, California University of Pennsylvania and his alma mater, WVU.

Pittsburgh native, Ray Zawodni has been called a son, a brother, a lover and a loser but he mostly prefers to be called a stand-up comedian. After finishing his fourth year at West Virginia University, the proud Mountaineer returned to the Steel City to pursue a dream that he has had since he was a small child...but when he realized he was too out of shape to be a superhero, he decided to try comedy instead! Over the past 6 years, he has used his devilishly good looks and boyish charm to entertain audiences all over the east coast. Zawodni is a regular performer at the Pittsburgh Improv and the Arcade Comedy Theater.He also performs at colleges across the region including the University of Pittsburgh, California University of Pennsylvania and his alma mater, WVU.

Wayne 'The Train' Hancock

"Wayne Hancock has more Hank Sr. in him than either I or Hank Williams Jr. He is the real deal." - Hank III
"Hancock, who tosses out a roots mix of old country, roadhouse blues, western dance swing, boogie bop, and straight-up rockabilly, takes what was once old and makes it seem like it's always been and always will be."---allmusic.com
“The country music scene could do with a lot more characters like Wayne, who push the music’s limits while staying truer to its roots than any well-known names associated with the genre today.” – Slug Magazine
Since his stunning debut, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs in 1995, Wayne “The Train” Hancock has been the undisputed king of Juke Joint Swing--that alchemist’s dream of honky-tonk, western swing, blues, Texas rockabilly and big band. Always an anomaly among his country music peers, Wayne’s uncompromising interpretation of the music he loves is in fact what defines him: steeped in traditional but never "retro;" bare bones but bone shaking; hardcore but with a swing. Like the comfortable crackle of a Wurlitzer 45 jukebox, Wayne is the embodiment of genuine, house rocking, hillbilly boogie.

Wayne makes music fit for any road house anywhere. With his unmistakable voice, The Train’s reckless honky-tonk can move the dead. If you see him live (and he is ALWAYS touring), you’ll surely work up some sweat stains on that snazzy Rayon shirt you’re wearing. If you buy his records, you’ll be rolling up your carpets, spreading sawdust on the hardwood, and dancing until the downstairs neighbors are banging their brooms on the ceiling. Call him a throwback if you want, Wayne just wants to ENTERTAIN you, and what's wrong with that?

Wayne's disdain for the slick swill that passes for real deal country is well known. Like he's fond of saying: "Man, I'm like a stab wound in the fabric of country music in Nashville. See that bloodstain slowly spreading? That's me."

Little known fact: Wayne is the only Bloodshot artist to have had their CD taken aboard a space shuttle flight.

"A rare breed of traditionalist, one who imbues his retro obsessions with such high energy and passions that his songs never feel like the museum pieces he's trying desperately to preserve." -AllMusic.com

"Wayne Hancock has more Hank Sr. in him than either I or Hank Williams Jr. He is the real deal." - Hank III
"Hancock, who tosses out a roots mix of old country, roadhouse blues, western dance swing, boogie bop, and straight-up rockabilly, takes what was once old and makes it seem like it's always been and always will be."---allmusic.com
“The country music scene could do with a lot more characters like Wayne, who push the music’s limits while staying truer to its roots than any well-known names associated with the genre today.” – Slug Magazine
Since his stunning debut, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs in 1995, Wayne “The Train” Hancock has been the undisputed king of Juke Joint Swing--that alchemist’s dream of honky-tonk, western swing, blues, Texas rockabilly and big band. Always an anomaly among his country music peers, Wayne’s uncompromising interpretation of the music he loves is in fact what defines him: steeped in traditional but never "retro;" bare bones but bone shaking; hardcore but with a swing. Like the comfortable crackle of a Wurlitzer 45 jukebox, Wayne is the embodiment of genuine, house rocking, hillbilly boogie.

Wayne makes music fit for any road house anywhere. With his unmistakable voice, The Train’s reckless honky-tonk can move the dead. If you see him live (and he is ALWAYS touring), you’ll surely work up some sweat stains on that snazzy Rayon shirt you’re wearing. If you buy his records, you’ll be rolling up your carpets, spreading sawdust on the hardwood, and dancing until the downstairs neighbors are banging their brooms on the ceiling. Call him a throwback if you want, Wayne just wants to ENTERTAIN you, and what's wrong with that?

Wayne's disdain for the slick swill that passes for real deal country is well known. Like he's fond of saying: "Man, I'm like a stab wound in the fabric of country music in Nashville. See that bloodstain slowly spreading? That's me."

Little known fact: Wayne is the only Bloodshot artist to have had their CD taken aboard a space shuttle flight.

"A rare breed of traditionalist, one who imbues his retro obsessions with such high energy and passions that his songs never feel like the museum pieces he's trying desperately to preserve." -AllMusic.com

Bill Toms and Hard Rain (Featuring The Soulville Horns) - 'Good For My Soul' Record Release Concert (Night 1)

Will Kimbrough (producer) 2017:

Bill Toms is a hard working, blue collar, blues guitar playing, soul shouting poet.

He's no stranger to the road, nor is he a stranger to a steel mill. No stranger to his heart, his conscience---you can feel it in these songs.

Hard Rain is not just a brilliant, post-Apocalyptic Bob Dylan song. Hard Rain is Bill Toms' guitar slinging, horn blowing, pure soul back-beat band.

No Hard Rain, no Bill Toms. No Bill Toms, No Hard Rain.

For the second time, I was asked to come help produce a Bill Toms and Hard Rain album at Studio L in Weirton, West Virginia---Rick Witkowski's place. Yeah, that Rick Witkowski from Crack the Sky. Creem Magazine. Yes, I am a rock n roll kid who grew up with Creem Magazine.

The poetry of recording this real deal blue collar soul band in Weirton, WV---where Michael Cimino's epic tragedy "The Deer Hunter" was filmed---cannot be overlooked. Not that we took off into the mountains, got loaded and chased ungulates around---nor chased Meryl Streep around. But in that setting, in mid-Winter, in the wake of the election of Donald J Trump as President of the United States of America—it all seemed poetic to say the least.

Bill Toms will sit you down and strategize a soul song with such sincerity and seriousness---soul music is serious business when it comes to Bill's art, his music, his band. His band consists of some of the most talented musicians in the music world. Phil Brontz on sax, Steve Binsberger on piano and organ, Tom Valentine on bass, Tom Breiding on guitar, and Bernie Herr on the drums. Throw in the Soulville Horns (Steve Graham - trombone, JD Chaison - trumpet) and the rhythm and soul is oozing from the studio.

We compared what we were doing to our favorite Stax Records. To the Willie Mitchell produced Hi Records masterpieces---Al Green, Syl Johnson. To the soul gospel of the Staple Singers. To the east coast soul of the O'Jays, Dyke and the Blazers. We wanted to make sure we did not smooth away the edges---not just rough edges---but the edges of the sound itself. If a guitar was kind of raw and wild---keep that. If the drums sounded like a man trying to beat his way out of the trunk of a '73 Lincoln---keep it. If Bill's voice cracked a little because he was singing so hard and in the moment that he rasped like a rusty cog at US Steel---keep it.

Me, I just tagged along, played rhythm guitar, cheered them on, played some slide guitar, sang some harmonies---and had the time of my life.

The very night I arrived home after that long drive from Weirton, WV to Nashville, my wife and I watched "The Deer Hunter"---if you've seen it, you know it's dark and heavy. But all I could think about was jumping up and down with Bill Toms and Rick Witkowski, making the Marvin Gaye-esque party atmosphere on "Going Back To Memphis" in Rick's basement studio, right there in Weirton, by the rusted out mill.

These are desperate times, indeed. But I'm sad no more. The human spirit lives in us all; but the soul shouting spirit is particularly lively up around Pittsburgh these days, in the soul blues poetry of Mister Bill Toms and his real deal band, Hard Rain.

Will Kimbrough (producer) 2017:

Bill Toms is a hard working, blue collar, blues guitar playing, soul shouting poet.

He's no stranger to the road, nor is he a stranger to a steel mill. No stranger to his heart, his conscience---you can feel it in these songs.

Hard Rain is not just a brilliant, post-Apocalyptic Bob Dylan song. Hard Rain is Bill Toms' guitar slinging, horn blowing, pure soul back-beat band.

No Hard Rain, no Bill Toms. No Bill Toms, No Hard Rain.

For the second time, I was asked to come help produce a Bill Toms and Hard Rain album at Studio L in Weirton, West Virginia---Rick Witkowski's place. Yeah, that Rick Witkowski from Crack the Sky. Creem Magazine. Yes, I am a rock n roll kid who grew up with Creem Magazine.

The poetry of recording this real deal blue collar soul band in Weirton, WV---where Michael Cimino's epic tragedy "The Deer Hunter" was filmed---cannot be overlooked. Not that we took off into the mountains, got loaded and chased ungulates around---nor chased Meryl Streep around. But in that setting, in mid-Winter, in the wake of the election of Donald J Trump as President of the United States of America—it all seemed poetic to say the least.

Bill Toms will sit you down and strategize a soul song with such sincerity and seriousness---soul music is serious business when it comes to Bill's art, his music, his band. His band consists of some of the most talented musicians in the music world. Phil Brontz on sax, Steve Binsberger on piano and organ, Tom Valentine on bass, Tom Breiding on guitar, and Bernie Herr on the drums. Throw in the Soulville Horns (Steve Graham - trombone, JD Chaison - trumpet) and the rhythm and soul is oozing from the studio.

We compared what we were doing to our favorite Stax Records. To the Willie Mitchell produced Hi Records masterpieces---Al Green, Syl Johnson. To the soul gospel of the Staple Singers. To the east coast soul of the O'Jays, Dyke and the Blazers. We wanted to make sure we did not smooth away the edges---not just rough edges---but the edges of the sound itself. If a guitar was kind of raw and wild---keep that. If the drums sounded like a man trying to beat his way out of the trunk of a '73 Lincoln---keep it. If Bill's voice cracked a little because he was singing so hard and in the moment that he rasped like a rusty cog at US Steel---keep it.

Me, I just tagged along, played rhythm guitar, cheered them on, played some slide guitar, sang some harmonies---and had the time of my life.

The very night I arrived home after that long drive from Weirton, WV to Nashville, my wife and I watched "The Deer Hunter"---if you've seen it, you know it's dark and heavy. But all I could think about was jumping up and down with Bill Toms and Rick Witkowski, making the Marvin Gaye-esque party atmosphere on "Going Back To Memphis" in Rick's basement studio, right there in Weirton, by the rusted out mill.

These are desperate times, indeed. But I'm sad no more. The human spirit lives in us all; but the soul shouting spirit is particularly lively up around Pittsburgh these days, in the soul blues poetry of Mister Bill Toms and his real deal band, Hard Rain.

Bill Toms and Hard Rain (Featuring The Soulville Horns) - 'Good For My Soul' Record Release Concert (Night 2)

Will Kimbrough (producer) 2017:

Bill Toms is a hard working, blue collar, blues guitar playing, soul shouting poet.

He's no stranger to the road, nor is he a stranger to a steel mill. No stranger to his heart, his conscience---you can feel it in these songs.

Hard Rain is not just a brilliant, post-Apocalyptic Bob Dylan song. Hard Rain is Bill Toms' guitar slinging, horn blowing, pure soul back-beat band.

No Hard Rain, no Bill Toms. No Bill Toms, No Hard Rain.

For the second time, I was asked to come help produce a Bill Toms and Hard Rain album at Studio L in Weirton, West Virginia---Rick Witkowski's place. Yeah, that Rick Witkowski from Crack the Sky. Creem Magazine. Yes, I am a rock n roll kid who grew up with Creem Magazine.

The poetry of recording this real deal blue collar soul band in Weirton, WV---where Michael Cimino's epic tragedy "The Deer Hunter" was filmed---cannot be overlooked. Not that we took off into the mountains, got loaded and chased ungulates around---nor chased Meryl Streep around. But in that setting, in mid-Winter, in the wake of the election of Donald J Trump as President of the United States of America—it all seemed poetic to say the least.

Bill Toms will sit you down and strategize a soul song with such sincerity and seriousness---soul music is serious business when it comes to Bill's art, his music, his band. His band consists of some of the most talented musicians in the music world. Phil Brontz on sax, Steve Binsberger on piano and organ, Tom Valentine on bass, Tom Breiding on guitar, and Bernie Herr on the drums. Throw in the Soulville Horns (Steve Graham - trombone, JD Chaison - trumpet) and the rhythm and soul is oozing from the studio.

We compared what we were doing to our favorite Stax Records. To the Willie Mitchell produced Hi Records masterpieces---Al Green, Syl Johnson. To the soul gospel of the Staple Singers. To the east coast soul of the O'Jays, Dyke and the Blazers. We wanted to make sure we did not smooth away the edges---not just rough edges---but the edges of the sound itself. If a guitar was kind of raw and wild---keep that. If the drums sounded like a man trying to beat his way out of the trunk of a '73 Lincoln---keep it. If Bill's voice cracked a little because he was singing so hard and in the moment that he rasped like a rusty cog at US Steel---keep it.

Me, I just tagged along, played rhythm guitar, cheered them on, played some slide guitar, sang some harmonies---and had the time of my life.

The very night I arrived home after that long drive from Weirton, WV to Nashville, my wife and I watched "The Deer Hunter"---if you've seen it, you know it's dark and heavy. But all I could think about was jumping up and down with Bill Toms and Rick Witkowski, making the Marvin Gaye-esque party atmosphere on "Going Back To Memphis" in Rick's basement studio, right there in Weirton, by the rusted out mill.

These are desperate times, indeed. But I'm sad no more. The human spirit lives in us all; but the soul shouting spirit is particularly lively up around Pittsburgh these days, in the soul blues poetry of Mister Bill Toms and his real deal band, Hard Rain.

Will Kimbrough (producer) 2017:

Bill Toms is a hard working, blue collar, blues guitar playing, soul shouting poet.

He's no stranger to the road, nor is he a stranger to a steel mill. No stranger to his heart, his conscience---you can feel it in these songs.

Hard Rain is not just a brilliant, post-Apocalyptic Bob Dylan song. Hard Rain is Bill Toms' guitar slinging, horn blowing, pure soul back-beat band.

No Hard Rain, no Bill Toms. No Bill Toms, No Hard Rain.

For the second time, I was asked to come help produce a Bill Toms and Hard Rain album at Studio L in Weirton, West Virginia---Rick Witkowski's place. Yeah, that Rick Witkowski from Crack the Sky. Creem Magazine. Yes, I am a rock n roll kid who grew up with Creem Magazine.

The poetry of recording this real deal blue collar soul band in Weirton, WV---where Michael Cimino's epic tragedy "The Deer Hunter" was filmed---cannot be overlooked. Not that we took off into the mountains, got loaded and chased ungulates around---nor chased Meryl Streep around. But in that setting, in mid-Winter, in the wake of the election of Donald J Trump as President of the United States of America—it all seemed poetic to say the least.

Bill Toms will sit you down and strategize a soul song with such sincerity and seriousness---soul music is serious business when it comes to Bill's art, his music, his band. His band consists of some of the most talented musicians in the music world. Phil Brontz on sax, Steve Binsberger on piano and organ, Tom Valentine on bass, Tom Breiding on guitar, and Bernie Herr on the drums. Throw in the Soulville Horns (Steve Graham - trombone, JD Chaison - trumpet) and the rhythm and soul is oozing from the studio.

We compared what we were doing to our favorite Stax Records. To the Willie Mitchell produced Hi Records masterpieces---Al Green, Syl Johnson. To the soul gospel of the Staple Singers. To the east coast soul of the O'Jays, Dyke and the Blazers. We wanted to make sure we did not smooth away the edges---not just rough edges---but the edges of the sound itself. If a guitar was kind of raw and wild---keep that. If the drums sounded like a man trying to beat his way out of the trunk of a '73 Lincoln---keep it. If Bill's voice cracked a little because he was singing so hard and in the moment that he rasped like a rusty cog at US Steel---keep it.

Me, I just tagged along, played rhythm guitar, cheered them on, played some slide guitar, sang some harmonies---and had the time of my life.

The very night I arrived home after that long drive from Weirton, WV to Nashville, my wife and I watched "The Deer Hunter"---if you've seen it, you know it's dark and heavy. But all I could think about was jumping up and down with Bill Toms and Rick Witkowski, making the Marvin Gaye-esque party atmosphere on "Going Back To Memphis" in Rick's basement studio, right there in Weirton, by the rusted out mill.

These are desperate times, indeed. But I'm sad no more. The human spirit lives in us all; but the soul shouting spirit is particularly lively up around Pittsburgh these days, in the soul blues poetry of Mister Bill Toms and his real deal band, Hard Rain.

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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