There’s no shortage of country songs lamenting the old days. In fact, for many artists, singing about the good old times seems to never, well, get old. But not all “ode to the past” songs are the same, as Slaid Cleaves proves with his new track “The Old Guard.”
In it, Cleaves manages to capture the nuance behind the nostalgia. Unlike most songs telling us country music is dead, he focuses on the fans as opposed to the music. That’s what makes the song feel so genuine.
In the track, Cleaves introduces us to an old tavern called Dickey’s Place. He goes there often, especially when his heart is aching.
“Through swinging doors I hear the voice of old George Jones,” Cleaves sings. “I find myself a barstool and I’m right at home.” But the song doesn’t devolve into a message about how “nobody makes country music” anymore. It’s more about the people who listen and their interactions with the modern crowd.
Give the track a listen through this exclusive premiere:
The brilliance of Cleaves’ song comes in the tone. Instead of sounding resentful or bitter, he highlights why the “old guard” loves those old tunes so much. For starters, they make them feel “less alone.” The songs echo their own mistakes. And, like a true friend, helps make the sadness go down more easily. Or, as he sings, “The old guard feels a little less alone.”
Meanwhile, when newer country comes on (“the fast modern tunes”), the kids get up and head to the dance floor. Presumably, the bass and their dancing makes the floor shake. And then, eventually, the tunes turn back to the old stuff and the ebb and flow continues.
Perhaps the best line of the song references that dynamic. Speaking of the younger fans, Cleaves sings, “They’ll be back when it’s their turn to join the guard.”
The line is a bit esoteric, but its open-endedness is what makes it so compelling. Cleaves implies the kids will one day learn to love the old tunes. Or maybe he’s suggesting their preferred music will one day be the “old tunes.” Then again, he could mean something a little darker altogether. Like perhaps they’ll understand once they’ve led weary and bad decision-laden lives. Though honestly, the tone of the song doesn’t suggest quite as dark an outcome.
Cleaves’ new album Ghost On The Car Radio comes out June 23.