Maine native looks to music of his youth in recent album

Posted June 25, 2009, at 7:38 p.m.

Singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves may live deep in the heart of Texas now, but no one — including Cleaves himself — is allowed to forget his roots. Which are, of course, right here in Maine.

Cleaves, who grew up in South Berwick and lived in Portland for a number of years, will perform two shows in the Bangor area next week. There’s his in-store performance at noon on Tuesday, June 30, at Bull Moose Music on Hogan Road in Bangor, and then there’s his show with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, at the Solidarity Center on Ivers Street in Brewer, part of Eastern Maine Labor Council and Food AND Medicine’s annual Fourth of July celebration.

Cleaves misses some things about his home state, as any Maine expatriate undoubtedly does.

“I love the city of Portland. I love the brew pub, Gritty’s, that I lived around the corner from,” said Cleaves. “I love the smells of the ocean and the fact that you’re always within just a few minutes’ drive of the country. Plus, you can’t get a haddock sandwich in Texas.”

You can, however, grill fajitas on your porch in January, which Cleaves and his wife, Karen, did as soon as they moved to Austin 20 years ago. While they make it up to Maine every year, they still love their adopted hometown, and not just for the weather — for the musical climate too.

“The musical community here is just incredible. We’ve made some great close friends over the years,” said Cleaves. “It’s an enriching environment to be in.”

Some of those friends include the folks enlisted to help Cleaves record his newest album, “Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away,” out earlier this year on Music Road Records. Cleaves’ first album of original material in five years, “Everything You Love” is, in his eyes, the true follow-up to his breakthrough 2000 album “Brokedown.”

“‘Wishbones,’ which came out in 2004, was a follow-up, not another breakthrough. With this album, I was consciously trying to push boundaries both lyrically and musically,” said Cleaves. “I wanted to write something that would be as much of a career landmark as ‘Brokedown.’”

To that end, Cleaves explored some new musical avenues, and called on some unexpected influences. While his music recalls such great alt-country songwriters as Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and even Townes Van Zandt, on “Everything You Love” Cleaves thought about the bands he loved in high school.

“I listened to U2 and R.E.M. all the time growing up. As a little kid I loved The Beatles. Those are things that don’t really show up in my music a lot,” he said. “I tried to incorporate some of those modern pop forms into these songs. It’s not a radical change, but I wanted to explore more. I think it ended up being more personal, and more emotional, than anything else I’ve done. I put everything I had into it.”

“Everything You Love” caught the attention of one of Cleaves’ biggest fans — Stephen King, who wrote the liner notes for the album. WKIT 100.3, Bangor’s classic-rock radio station, plays Cleaves’ songs regularly. For a guy who spends half his year on tour, Cleaves is pretty laid back about his career. As long as he’s out performing and writing, he’s happy.

“I haven’t sold any songs to any TV shows. I’m not going to make millions of dollars,” he said. “But I keep growing creatively. I get to make music. That’s pretty good.”

Slaid Cleaves will play a free show at 12 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30, at Bull Moose Music on Hogan Road in Bangor. He will also play with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion at Eastern Maine Labor Council’s annual Fourth of July Solidarity Celebration, set for 6 p.m. Saturday, July 4, at the Solidarity Center on Ivers Street in Brewer. Admission is $15 for adults and $25 for families, and includes a pig and lamb roast and potluck featuring local meats and produce; for tickets call 989-5860. For more information, visit www.slaid.com.

Singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves will perform two Bangor-area shows next week.

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