Vic Chesnutt

Silver Lake (New West)

Sorry to say it, but Silver Lake sounds like Vic Chesnutt light. The veteran singer-songwriter's southern gothic has gone quasi-gospel, his delicate imperfection and haunted airiness glossed over. A full band of musicians leaves its stamp all over the recording, which, if memory serves, includes the only wicked guitar solo ever to appear in a Vic Chesnutt song.

The album has its fine moments. The jaunty "Band Camp," a happy reflection on a high school crush unfulfilled, finds Chesnutt and an older girl, as they would "nearly be making out/On the bus home from the away games." Vic sounds happy about this memory; the music backs it up. In this instance, the fuller sound works.

Here's to Chesnutt's fulfillment and to trying new things, but Silver Lake nevertheless misses the mark. There are some strange, head-scratching moments here that are memorable for Vic's willingness to attempt nearly any subject matter. Any: The centerpiece of the album, the eight-minute-plus "Sultan So Mighty," is a song about a man posing as a eunuch to get the girls in the harem behind the back of his master.

Another oddity, "Girl's Say," is a funny but awkward-sounding dialogue between a sexually naive boy and girl with Vic singing both parts, featuring classic Chesnutt lyrics like "Girls say, You look great today'/And boys say, Hey, show me all your boobs.'"

It hurts to be so critical of such a favored artist, but Silver Lake is a misstep for Chesnutt, who at his best sticks to what he knows -- real sadness and incisive honesty. While perhaps it's great that he sounds happy on parts of this album -- please let Vic be happy -- there sadly just isn't much else to comment on.

 
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