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Vic Chesnutt: Silver Lake


Vic Chesnutt

Album: Silver Lake
Label: New West

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Vic Chesnutt's recording career began with a $100 budget and an afternoon spent cutting tracks with Michael Stipe. His most recent solo studio album prior to the new Silver Lake, 1998's The Salesman And Bernadette, found him playing against a sprawling background provided by Lambchop. For a singer-songwriter with such an unmistakable voice and songwriting style, Chesnutt can be remarkably chameleonic, but Silver Lake falls somewhere between those two extremes. Chesnutt has assembled a dream cast of backing musicians, whose résumés include stints with Jon Brion, Brian Eno, Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois, and others. His pleasure with the lineup is evident in the album's unusually democratic liner notes, which list not only who played what, but also who suggested what and when. Like Salesman, however, Silver Lake is filled with quirks and emotions which ensure that it still sounds primarily like a Chesnutt album. "I had to throw my yearbook in the dumpster because it was haunting me," he sings on "Band Camp," recalling a first love that ended badly. An example of Chesnutt's ability to ground airy ruminations in hard detail, the song's calmly ruminative tone typifies the album. A swelling chorus sings the title refrain to "Stay Inside," bringing drama to a moment of quiet introspection as Chesnutt struggles to find a reason to leave the house beyond bedclothes that have "gone all funky." Elsewhere, that drama finds folkloric surrogates such as the sailor protagonist of "Zippy Morocco" and the eunuch of the epic "Sultan, So Mighty," excursions that stretch Chesnutt and his band in unexpectedly exotic directions. The best comes last, however, on the spare, album-closing "In My Way, Yes." Its verses are formed from a collection of small pleasures, its chorus is an insistent affirmation, and its naked fragility captures what Chesnutt does best, no matter who's behind him.