Vic Chesnutt

Merriment

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Chesnutt's seventh album is a collaboration with Jack Logan associates Kelly Keneipp and Nikki Keneipp (Logan himself plays bass on one track). The Keneipps wrote all of the music; Chesnutt supplied the lyrics and some guitar; and the Keneipps played most of the other instruments. It still sounds very much like a Vic Chesnutt record. It's his rich, melancholy voice that dominates the tracks and his odd, brooding, enigmatic lyrics that set the tone. In the stately melodicism of the material, and the way Chesnutt has with wrenching soulful vocal nuances, you're sometimes reminded of two British singer/songwriters that might seem likely unlikely comparisons: Robert Wyatt and Elvis Costello. He's goofier and folkier than Wyatt, and nonetheless not as pop as Costello, but the similarities are there (though certainly these are to Costello's most reflective side rather than his power pop stuff). Piano is the prevalent instrument on many of the slow to mid-tempo arrangements, although there are occasional deviations from the usual, as in the angry, slashing guitars on "Preponderance." Chesnutt's words are often oblique, and sometimes inscrutable. It's a good thing he's a good vocalist, because the overall mood -- of dignified struggle and a man winding maze-like through life's difficulties and absurdities -- is established much more by the turns and twists of the vocals than it is by the words alone. This is a fairly impressive effort, and the Keneipps are sympathetic collaborators, but if one important criticism must be voiced, it's that the consistently sluggish pace gets a little enervating by the end of the disc. It's suitable for reflective moods, but downbeat enough to get you verging on a stupor by the close.

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