I buy a new album every New Year's Eve before the foolery begins. This year I was stumped. Nothing jumped out at me. How do you do justice to such an awful year? As I hit the counter ready to buy the new Lady Gaga release (don't ask), I saw a copy of the new Vic Chesnutt record, At the Cut, just sitting there. Lonely. No-brianer: gimme that Chesnutt album, I have a new year to find escape in.
Moments later I found myself sitting at the player, album in hand. Good looking record. Great looking record. But I couldn't put it in, all things considered (Google Vic if you don't know what I mean here). This final chapter - not countingVic's tossed off Skitter On Take Off - had me scared to the point of Captain Wet Pants, but I put it in regardless. I put this very dark record on, if you can believe it, before heading to a dinner party full of happy people talking about happy things. As the songs started I felt weak and fragile; I should've bought that stupid f&%#ing Gaga record like a normal human being, not the most depressing - on many levels - record of 2009. The most depressing record ever. Turned it off.
Come the morning of New Year's Day I found myself shivering in my bathrobe as Chesnutt's "Flirted With You All My Life" fell from the speakers. Should I bawl my brains out or should I simply digest these emotions and let them further expand my personal definition of what it means to be an artist? Songs get no more meaningful than this, I reasoned with myself. And so I do both. Over and over, I did both as the record skipped along, plucking raw nerves.
And the song, one of the standout's on the songwriter's second album featuring members of the Godspeed/Mount Zion gang, is the kind of song we write/read books about. I won't go into too much detail, so as not to ruin the impact. I will say this: it's haunting; it's real; it's terrifying; and, had things turned out less harrowing for the artist, it'd be an intense victory march. The 33 1/3 publishers are gonna have a heyday with this record.
Chesnutt's first record with the Godspeeders, titled North Star Deserter, was good. Not great, but a solid merging of styles and minds and certainly a better record than the one he made with Elf Power. Here Chesnutt also adds Fugazi's Guy Picciotto - who handles lead guitar duties - to the mix. And he's great. I recently heard the guitarist speaking on the subject of the record and Vic on "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," and, aside from showing much love for the record, he spoke of his deep bond with Vic. It was sad. These two, I'm certain, would've made more great music together. Nerve-plucking power.
Opener "Coward" is intense, growing from a minimal acoustic track into an almost scary declaration song that I could see Nick Cave someday giving his gothic slant. It's a highlight, as is "Chinaberry Tree," one of the album's more accessible cuts. "Tree's" arrangement and guitar work even reminds a bit of Wilco's live treatments.
And then we have "Concord Country Jubilee," one of the best Vic songs in years. Maybe ever. It's a laid back, late-fall twanger that I'd without hesitating list as one of my favorite cuts of 2009. Contrabass, guitar, piano and keys have rarely sounded so organic and serene, making the track a nice escape from the records more serious material.
If nothing else, be sure to hear "Flirted With You All My Life" at some point. Like the rest of Cut, it's both beautiful and heartbreaking. Almost too much to take. Musicians with that power don't come around too often.