Vic Chesnutt

The Salesman and Bernadette

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Sounding more upbeat and a whole lot more soulful than on previous outings, Vic Chesnutt has invited the Dixie-fried experimental group Lambchop along with his wife Tina into the studio for his sixth album, a concept about a traveling salesman. Salesman and Bernadette sounds less like his usual doleful, sometimes baleful, Southern Gothic self and is perhaps his best recording yet. Chesnutt's is a vulnerable voice, and though he can project frailty, his M.O. isn't pity-inducing; in fact, he's quite humorous. "Duty Free" sounds like a New Orleans funeral march. The Lambchop horn section ape the Tijuana Brass to a hip-hop beat on "Replenished." "Maiden" has a sweet melody, driven by vibes and a very subtle horn line. "Until the Led" has the spunk and spirit of R.E.M.'s "Can't Get There from Here" and "So. Central Rain"; Chesnutt draws on that keening vocal quality that probably appealed to his early mentor, Michael Stipe, in the first place. But even R.E.M. in all their new experimentation would never have let the horns run to the border like they do here. The best thing of all is that Chesnutt's "new direction" still has a warm, organic and homespun quality -- the very things that were missing on then-recent recordings by his Athens, GA brothers.

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