Silver Lake (New West)

Vic Chesnutt 

Silver Lake (New West)

With Silver Lake, Chesnutt strides confidently into the realm of lushness -- and for the first time, that's not an alcohol reference. Because of his partial paralysis, his guitar leans toward spare necessity, and his voice, always a wry, bittersweet instrument, often comes closer to spoken word than to singing. But the production of Silver Lake is a mile deep, with three-part harmonies prominent in more than one song. Chesnutt has collaborated with groups before, notably Lambchop and Widespread Panic (for the two Brute projects), but this is the first time the band has really had his back rather than simply doing his songs.

That's not to say Chesnutt has strayed far from the slice of sliced lives he's practically trademarked. "Band Camp" opens a scrapbook for seemingly autobiographical and heartsick stories (though not a direct American Pie reference, it's just as ribald), and the deceptively cheerful "Fa-La-La" explores a young man's fear of leaving the hospital and going back to real life. Chesnutt confidently warps metaphors, milking the trapped, gelded narrator of "Sultan, So Mighty" (I'm here to watch the ladies/And fan away their sweat) and the poet-as-Styrofoam-cooler machinations of "Styrofoam" for everything they're worth. Chesnutt remains an acquired taste, but this is as close to straight-ahead rock as he'll probably ever get.

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