Vic Chesnutt

Skitter on Take-Off

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Only a few months after releasing his sophomore collaboration with Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, At the Cut, Vic Chesnutt has emerged with his second album of 2009, Skitter on Take-Off, and the two projects could hardly sound more different. While Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra summoned a grand and gloriously idiosyncratic barrage of sound to accompany Chesnutt's songs, Skitter on Take-Off is a spare and minimal affair; Jonathan Richman and his longtime drummer Tommy Larkin produced these sessions, and though they offer understated support on a few songs (most audibly on the upbeat "Society Sue"), for the most part this is just Chesnutt's voice and acoustic guitar, cut live in the studio with a touch so light that at times it seems as if the microphones are eavesdropping on Chesnutt as much as capturing a performance. Chesnutt is an artist who is best served by emotionally direct performances, and the stark intimacy of Skitter on Take-Off largely works in his favor; the venomous whisper of "Dick Cheney" is all the more powerful for the fact there's so little to obscure it, and two lengthy tracks, "Rips in the Fabric" and "Worst Friend," give Chesnutt all the space he needs to spin his curious but compelling tales in all their richly detailed glory. Richman and Larkin are smart enough to know that Chesnutt is a one-of-a-kind songwriter and performer who doesn't need to have his work fussed with to work in the studio, but sometimes, Skitter on Take-Off feels rather too stripped down; the arrangements (or lack of them) give the songs an audio verite feel that's not unflattering, but the occasional interplay between Chesnutt, Richman, and Larkin is strong enough that it seems a lost opportunity that they didn't investigate it further. Skitter on Take-Off isn't perfect, but it ably documents just how remarkable Vic Chesnutt can sound essentially by his lonesome, and few artists could make two albums so different and so impressive within the space of a year -- truth to tell, most couldn't do it with five years at their disposal.

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