Vic Chesnutt

Silver Lake

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In many ways, Vic Chesnutt fits more comfortably in the great tradition of Southern literature than Southern rock & roll -- with his elegant, slightly off-kilter wordplay and comfortably elliptical storytelling style, Chesnutt has as much in common with, say, Flannery O'Connor as anyone in contemporary music. Which is to say that Vic Chesnutt doesn't sound much like anyone else, which is at once his blessing and his curse; it's hard to pitch him to most people because he's unique to the point of being an anomaly, but once you've acquired a taste for Chesnutt's emotionally generous eccentricity, it's hard to get enough of him. While Silver Lake sounds like a Vic Chesnutt album through and through, it's also a better than average introduction to the man's work; here, producer and engineer Mark Howard gives the performances an open, natural sound that puts the top-shelf band assembled for the occasion (including Doug Pettibone, Darryl Johnson, Patrick Warren, and Don Heffington) at its best advantage, and Chesnutt himself is in superb voice, inhabiting his characters with the sure and easy grace of a gifted actor. But the best thing about a Vic Chesnutt album is always the songs, and that's certainly the case here; in Chesnutt's world, life-changing romance can be found at band camp, the gulf between the sexes is at once funny and tragic, a eunuch can understand the love of both body and spirit better than the sultan he serves, and love can wound and soothe given the circumstances -- Chesnutt's stories always strike an honest and recognizable emotional chord, no matter how oddball the situations that surround them. You're not going to hear an evocation of love like "Sharing breakfast from one plate/Holding hands over loved ones' graves/Do you think I deserve it?/I say yes in my way yes" from anyone else, and the curious but heart-tugging beauty of lines like this are all the reason you need to give Vic Chesnutt and Silver Lake an honored space in your record collection.

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