Musicians from Austin, Texas, have always prided themselves on their innate inscrutability--if not their downright weirdness. Witness the "Keep Austin Weird" T-shirts on sale along the town's main drag during the annual South By Southwest Music Festigasm.
Underground Austin pseudo-legend Slaid Cleaves adds levels upon levels to that cult irony with an album of covers that pay tribute to his favorite underground singer-songwriters--all of his ilk, which is a good thing ... and a not-so-good thing. Opener "Devil's Lullaby" is one of two Michael O'Connor selections--and it both benefits and suffers from the same blessing-curse that songs on the rest of the record do. That is, the passion and, again, inscrutability that lead underground heroes to usually stay underground: a lack of hooks, a beautiful and cryptic outlaw sensibility and, of course, utter anti-radio arrangements.
Still, there are plenty of standouts and sing-alongs for those who don't require the middle-of-the-road pandering here: "Racecar Joe" is Adam Carroll's ode to down-home Dukes of Hazzard-isms, and throughout, Cleaves brings the unplugged shimmer. The rest of most of the cycle, Cleaves keeps it as such. But he really cuts to the chase with Ana Egge's lyrics and good, unclean back-porch fun on "Fairest of Them All": "She does her cocaine in the hall / no more hiding in the bathroom stall / She is the fairest of them all."