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Vic Chesnutt

SILVER LAKE (New West) • Vic Chesnutt

When Athens son Vic Chesnutt prepared to roll out his eleventh recording since his 1990 debut, he had 120 songs. ("…the well that never dries up," according to Fugazi's Ian McKaye.) You have to group them somehow to start picking through, and Vic sorted them as "slogans, poems and short stories."

He turns himself out so personally that the stories become universal. His wiry wounded tenor lays the songs bare without affectation, injecting them with the quiet power of truth. Silver Lake is outsider pop, all the trappings and taste of high tech production and top notch players, but the spirit of the record is free and the bar high. When Vic sings the role of a eunuch in the harem of a "Sultan, So Mighty" it feels like a little opera. Keyboardist Patrick Warren achieves a eerie lushness in the chamberlin arrangement of oboe, bass clarinet, and bassoon voices, also charting out the semi-orchestral roles of the impeccable Daryl Johnson on the bass, Doug Pettibone on steel, and Mike Stinson on drums.

It was originally intended that T-Bone Burnett produce, but schedules did not allow. When Vic and the New West Records head heard what producer Mark Howard was up to with Lucinda Williams at Paramour Studios in a mansion on the hill, they jumped on his dance card. Howard assembled the cast of players, most of whom had not yet met the artist. You'd never know that by the sound of the record. It's deep and intimate, even when it rocks. It feels autobiographical, no matter how third person it may be drawn.

Born in Florida, Chesnutt's family moved to GA in his childhood, where he had a churchy upbringing and trapped rabbits and the like. He broke his neck and was confined to a wheelchair after a drunk driving accident where he flipped his car at 18, and of course it changed his life radically. He left his past behind and moved to music mecca Athens, GA, where he began to write in earnest and was coaxed into the studio by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. in 1990. He has become a songwriter revered by many of the greats of his generation and an ardent, ever growing legion of devoted fans.

We enjoyed Silver Lake very much. Be sure to sample "Girls Say," "Wren's Nest," and the remarkable "Sultan, So Mighty" on the Listen page, and buy it from New West Records here. • FG

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