Slaid Cleaves seems to have found his singer/songwriter niche recording for Philo. Broke Down, which received a warm critical reception in 2000, was filled with detailed stories of broken down lives on the edge of survival (physically as well as emotionally). Although 2004's Wishbones sounds more hopeful, the tone of the material follows the mood of the earlier album. In "Drinkin' Days," the narrator expresses regret at his wild and rowdy days, but when it comes right down to it, his life is still filled with trouble; even when a contrite loser offers a "Sinner's Prayer," there's no redemption in sight. Cleaves doesn't really get into his forte -- story-songs -- until "Tiger Tom Dixon's Blues," the fifth cut. Tales of boxers and racetracks, unfulfilled promises, and old men remembering their younger days make up Wishbones list of desperate tales. The production's a nice a mix of acoustic-electro elements with the occasional varied touch -- like the fiddle on "Below" -- to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, the sum total of likable qualities lacks the impact of Broke Down. On that album, Cleaves made an effort to get outside the usual singer/songwriter material by writing about other people's lives. On Wishbones, Cleaves is in good voice, but the material sounds tired, and the melodies lack distinction. Even on the second track, "Road Too Long," cliché takes the place of detailed observation, and no song on Wishbones sticks out like "Bring It On" from Broke Down. Although a disappointment, Cleaves' fans will probably find several worthy songs on Wishbones.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.