You are never sure, musically, which Vic Chesnutt is going to turn up. Recent albums have been excellent in places but not always consistent. 'At the Cut' once again asks the question - How is it that this artist is not better known? Lyrically sharp and clever as ever, the songs are strong and deliver the powerful emotions it evokes. Sparse arrangements with piano, acoustic guitar and brushed drums to rock-outs and warped guitar, it has a bit of everything you expect from a Vic Chesnutt album.
`Coward', the opener, is savage, building up to the powerful crescendo, Chesnutt crying out, `I am a coward' over a backdrop of fuzzed guitar and orchestra. `Chain', a hushed song, with bar room piano, shows off Chesnutt's clever word play `...anecdotal evidence, synergized with common sense, collective carnal consciousness, strains the bulging silt fences...'. `Phillip Guston', a rock-out builds up on a two note riff, with repeated refrains sung from Chesnutt. `Flirted with you all my life' (Death) evokes, one feels, an autobiographical note for Chesnutt - however, I am no psychologist, so I'm probably wrong. Finally, `It is what it is', morphs from a slow inconsequential ballad into an outpouring of emotion, feelings and beliefs over violin and backing band. Superb!
Other tracks on the album are juxtaposed perfectly, and demand repeated listens to pick up on the excellent lyrics and subtle arrangements.
`At the Cut' sits alongside the very best of Chesnutt's work, (`Is the Actor Happy', `About to Choke') and lyrically Chesnutt has rarely been on finer form. This is an album which deserves wider attention than it will doubtless receive, and should be in the end of year lists of great albums in 2009, which, again it might not. Luckily, for Chesnutt fans, this is immaterial, for it is the music which counts, and here, he is up there with the best.
When I heard about his suicide I could not stop thinking about Vic Chestnutt. Again and again I played the seven albums I owned and ordered those I didn't. No other artist has dug so deep. No one else has hit the mark so often and with such wit and strident honesty.
At the Cut is Vic Chestnutt's second to last album and the peak of his long discography. It is a tough listen and a cathartic letting go. It's more than right that musicians from GSYBE / A Silver Mount Zion are there alongside him.
It draws on some of his other records - the stark vulnerability and live feel of Lost in Rome, the uplift of Ghetto Bells, the sometimes abrasive tones of North Star Deserter. Interestingly there is none of the playfulness of Dark Developments.
The first track `Coward' opens with a haunting Godspeed-esque lament and transitions into a full frontal assault, a dramatic, self-accusatory wail. It's exhausting, gut wrenching and beautiful.
`When the bottom fell out' steps into the yawning space that follows `Coward', a poem with a guitar. When the dog barks in the background it feels like the end of the world. Introspective poetry is also the hallmark of `Chain' and `We hovered with short wings' whilst `Chinaberry Tree' and `Philip Guston' have more of a full band, rock guitar sound.
`Concord Country' is something of a welcome easy-going break, a prelude to the album's most poignant track `Flirted with you all my life'. It starts with a high hat and death march bass drum and Vic sings "I am a man and I am self aware" and the words that follow are just so stripped and close to the heart that I feel the need to talk to him, if only the chance were on offer.
The penultimate track is the sound of a tired man singing in the early hours, rousing himself two thirds the way through to strain above the band and fight on. The closing track, `Granny', is quiet and reflective. He sings "You are the light of my life and the beat of my heart" and then the track ends and in the silence I would like to say thank you to Vic Chesnutt.