Cracked Actor

With new album, Vic Chesnutt moves from lonely troubadour to pop-art master

Maybe the biggest surprise about The Salesman and Bernadette is that it triumphs on a musical level as well. The backing by friends and frequent road companions Lambchop, the 13-piece (or sometimes more) alternative country "big band," infuses Chesnutt's songs with varied arrangements and musical punctuation. Lambchop's versatility allows Chesnutt to play with a number of unique and heretofore unexplored musical styles from Stax/Volt soul to Preservation Hall jazz to gentle country rhythms. For Chesnutt, the departure from his usually understated musical approach was especially liberating.

"I love to make all kinds of music and just experiment with sound," he says. "And Lambchop is nothing if not an experiment in sound. And since half the songs are old and half the songs are new, I wrote the newer ones with Lambchop in mind specifically."

For Chesnutt, the new album is a first step in his advance toward a broader, more ambitious future. He is already in the planning stages for a number of possible collaborations. Currently, he's involved in writing an album with some of his local Athens compatriots.

"They're writing the music, and I'm putting down the words and singing the melody on it," he says. "It's really been fun because it's so different from what I've done before. I'm trying to turn it into my high school play, my high school musical."

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