Vic Chesnutt: At the Cut
As a heavyweight collaboration, Vic Chesnutt's ensemble with members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor has slipped through the indie public awareness relatively on the sly. Maybe part of that is the diminished currency of the GYBE name in the late '00s, but, more likely, it has to do with 2007's North Star Deserter and the new At the Cut being very much Vic Chesnutt records, albeit with an amazingly potent, wrenching backing band.
And Chesnutt is an amazingly potent, wrenching singer/songwriter, so you can imagine the result. He has the voice of a worn-down old country singer, the lyricism of a man who's never closed his eyes or turned his head away from something ever, and the songwriting skill to turn the most fragile, feeble, or spare arrangement into something that could stop even the most hardened asshole right in his or her tracks.
"Flirted With It All My Life," over slow, bent country/western guitar notes and a light fog of a string section, faces death ("I am a man/ I am self-aware"), sweet release and brutal torment, through the words of someone who doesn't ever stop thinking about it, leaving the listener with this: "My mom was cancer-sick/ she fought and then succumbed to it/ but you made her beg for it," and a day-long dark chill. There's something almost childish about it, and it's hard to explain why exactly--that crush of terror that comes right at the beginning of self-awareness, but tightening instead of loosening its grip through adulthood. Or maybe it's just the saying it in words. Closer "Granny," over nothing but beat-up-sounding guitar strums, adds to the picture, a as-simple-as-simple-gets fond and sorrowful memory.
Just on songwriting alone, At the Cut makes for one of the best records of the year, if not the best. A backing band that, despite all kinds of evidence (Silver Mt. Zion, notably) showing it should be incapable of being a backing band, fills its role and only that marvelously; it does what Godspeed You! Black Emperor does best, but does it without all of the "epic," and it's even more effective than when that band was on its own. Marvelous.