When singer-songwriters record covers albums, it usually means one of three things, and all of them are bad: Either they’re trying to revive a sagging career by hopping aboard a cultural trend (Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook series), pointlessly revisiting their teen obsessions (David Bowie’s Pin-Ups) or conceding that they’re at least temporarily dried up (Bob Dylan’s Good As I Been To You).
Unsung, the new album by Austin troubadour Slaid Cleaves, is none of those things. True to its title, the album is a collection of obscure but stellar tunes by songwriters less famous than the man covering them (Adam Carroll being the lone possible exception). Turning to songs by friends such as Karen Poston and Michael O’Connor, Cleaves has fashioned an album that can stand proudly alongside his 2000 cult favorite Broke Down, and its solid 2004 follow-up, Wishbones.
Thu, June 1
Ruta Maya Riverwalk Coffeehouse
107 E. Martin
A Washington, D.C., native who spent his formative years in New England, Cleaves first registered with Texas audiences in 1992 when he won the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk Competition. His rough-hewn voice recalls the acidic cynicism of Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett, and although his songs peddle archetypal themes — drinking, the road, and God — he generally imbues them with an intriguing touch of world-weary wisdom. He’s an open-mic veteran in love with the mechanics of songwriting, and with Unsung, he honors his peers in the trenches.
- Gilbert Garcia