I like the odd ones, the off-beat artists that make music only they could make. Vic Chesnutt is certainly one of those artists that has created a musical world all his own. If you are familiar with Vic’s music perhaps it is because of the company that he has kept. Michael Stipe (of REM) produced his first two albums, he toured with Kristin Hersh (of Throwing Muses) and she wrote a beautiful book about him after he died. He also opened for Bob Mould (of Husker Du) and made two albums in a band called Brute where he was backed by most of the members of Widespread Panic. He has recorded with Lambchop, Elf Power, Bill Frisell and Van Dyke Parks. That is an impressive and diverse list but it certainly isn’t complete.
We carry a handful of Vic Chesnutt albums at Driver 8 Records but this week we added an album that I am very excited about. In 2009 he released his next-to-last album At The Cut. This album sees Vic working with an unlikely collaborator, Guy Picciotto from Fugazi. Vic lived his adult life in a wheelchair and played a nylon stringed guitar. Vic’s skill wasn’t with the guitar but with words. I heard Vic say in an interview that he wanted to use words that had never been in a song before. Clever word play isn’t the point, his songs can reach an emotional core that few writers ever dwell in. One example of this is the song “Flirted With You All My Life.” Give it a listen and watch how the meaning slowly reveals itself to not be what you think.
I was lucky enough to see Vic perform twice. The first time was at the 40 Watt Club in Athens Georgia for their Christmas party. I was young, eager and hoping to be blown away. I was not. Vic rolled onto the stage with an autoharp in his lap and a ragged santa hat on his head. He spent his half hour set playing bad Christmas songs on the autoharp. It was not entertaining but that was probably the point. Thankfully I saw Vic about ten years later in St. Louis. This time he was playing a benefit show with Patterson Hood and Son Volt. Vic’s set was great but Son Volt’s encore will always be the most memorable. They played Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” and invited Patterson and Vic to sing with them. This was at least 15 years ago now but I can still see Vic leaning back in his wheelchair and belting out “go go Godzilla” over and over again.
At The Cut is on our Staff Picks shelf and there is a decent chance when you stop by we will be playing it. It is a haunted and accessible album from a brilliant songwriter.