Slaid Cleaves returns to Tucson for a Rhythm & Roots show at 191 Toole with his band. 

Austin singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves turned 53 last summer and while he's nowhere near retiring he admits the thought of slowing down a bit has crossed his mind a time or two dozen.

It's not that the road is physically intimidating, although he said it gets harder to get on the bus with each tour. 

"It's a lot of work, and we love it, but as you get older, I think, you want to do it less," he said from home last week as he and his band were getting ready to play a Rhythm & Roots show at 191 Toole this weekend.  

It's just that the road has gotten more crowded as a younger crop of artists who seem to have capitalized on all the avenues that lead to musical success today have pushed Cleaves and other veteran Americana troubadours to the side of the road.

"It seemed like for a few years we were coasting along and I had an audience and I had a place in the music world. Just in the last couple of years, it seems like things are changing and a whole new generation is coming up to take my place," he said, sounding more nostalgic than discouraged and dropping names including Jason Isbell and Ed Sheeran. "I'm becoming a little bit of an obscure elder statesman in some ways. And I'm OK with that. Like I said, I've had my place in the Americana world and did well for a number of years, and we're still doing fine. But it seems to me there's a lot of young people who are really good coming up through the ranks and keeping this kind of music vibrant. ... It's good to see, but ... there's going to be less room for me."

During out conversation, Cleaves talked about slowing down, singing on and getting some Rolling Stone magazine love for his latest album "Ghost On the Car Radio."  

Beating the odds: "I've had a really lucky run at a profession that has really low odds at success. I realize that more and more every year. When I start complaining or grousing about not getting on a Spotify playlist or something like that, I just remember that I had my lucky breaks and I'm lucky to do this."

Keeping the door open for the new guys: "It's exciting to see (the new artists succeed), but a little bit of wistfulness that I didn't quite make it that far. We realize as well that we're really lucky to have a niche and have an audience. It amazes me every time when we go out that 100 people will leave their nice cushy homes with the 100 channel or so TV and Netflix and come out and brave traffic and weather and pay up to see a show at a club. It's amazing that people still go out to see live music."

Not quite the cover of Rolling Stone: Rolling Stone recently reviewed "Ghost," calling Cleaves "the Americana genre's most underappreciated songwriter." "That's the closest I'll get to the cover of Rolling Stone," he quipped.

Dusting off a gem in a trash heap: When he was working on "Ghost," a record he started in 2014 and didn't release until last summer, Cleaves stumbled on a 20-year-old songwriting notebook in his barn with "ghost on the car radio" scratched onto one page.

"Whenever that happens I've always had this secret hope that I will find some little gem that I wrote and never finished. This was one of them: 'I heard an old ghost on the car radio.' I was able to put it together with something contemporary that I was working on. It was the quickest song I ever wrote and the song that took the longest, since it took 20 years to put the fragments together."

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.