Vic Chesnutt

Record review

Phases & Stages

Vic Chesnutt

Little (New West)

Vic Chesnutt

West of Rome (New West)

Vic Chesnutt

Drunk (New West)

Vic Chesnutt

Is the Actor Happy? (New West)

In the overpopulated realm of singer-songwriters, Vic Chesnutt either leaves you searching for superlatives or scratching your head in wonder. One thing is indisputable, however: he blends folk, country, and rock & roll into his own idiosyncratic song style. Austin's New West label has just reissued Chesnutt's first four LPs, initially released in the early 1990s. Long out of print, they've been given the deluxe treatment, with a combined total of 26 bonus tracks spread out among them. The first two, Little and West of Rome, were produced by longtime supporter Michael Stipe and showcase Chesnutt's DIY ethic with a sound that's rough as a hangover. Starkly recorded, they posit the Athens, Ga., native in uncharted territory, filled with quirky story-songs like "Isadora Duncan" and "Speed Racer," the later also titling a documentary video of his life. The new version of Little adds five songs left off the album. West of Rome, meanwhile, considered by many his best collection of songs, has been re-sequenced to reflect Chesnutt and Stipe's original intentions, and adds five tracks, including the much requested "Flying." Drunk, his edgiest work and his most obscure due to its label folding not long after its release, contains nine new tracks, including Dylan's "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine." With John Keane (R.E.M., Widespread Panic) producing, Is the Actor Happy? is Chesnutt's best-sounding work. It finds him working with other musicians and giving his songs a different scope, some of his most acclaimed, like "Gravity of the Situation" and "Onion Soup," being found here. Especially noteworthy of the extras is a version of "Parameters," recorded at Austin's Electric Lounge in 1995.

(Little) **.5

(West of Rome; Drunk; Is the Actor Happy?) ***

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