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Vic Chesnutt | Left to His Own Devices (SpinART)
In the wake of record company flake-outs or absent band members, Left to His Own Devices - as its title hammers home - is what happens when Vic Chesnutt has the good fortune to plough on alone, recording at home on 4-track and Pro Tools. If you've ever expounded the notion that art can't be made by committee then the entirely solo LTHOD might be enough to give credence to your highfalutin hot air. Not that these fifteen songs are neat or pristine, but if the recording is occasionally rough around the edges - having something in common with Chesnutt's wavering Stipe-produced debut Little - then the songs themselves testify that his brilliance is untempered by circumstance. "And your mother's being poked by some bloke in the Bahamas," goes the refrain of Wounded Prince, before making way for the swell of Vic's multi-tracked backing vocals. Abetted by a couple of samples along the way, Chesnutt adds colour to the bedrock combination of nylon-stringed strum and up-front vocal in the form of piano and horn lines, keyboard washes and sequenced percussion. "Wishing you was Rosanne Cash and I was Rodney Crowell," he sings on Cash, and LTHOD only confirms Chesnutt as an unparalleled lyricist, whose wordplay squeezes moments of humour and all-to-human absurdity out of these biting tales. Hermitage contains the chorus, "here at the hermitage I am privileged / with solitude and self-cooked food / and crying time and quirks of mind." It's a sentiment that's echoed in part in the blackly comic, life-affirming poignancy of a capella album closer Look At Me: "It may not be pretty, my life up to here / but something bold and beautiful occurred / I'm not interred / I'm still alive/ I win a prize." On the record's inner sleeve Chesnutt flatly asserts, "this is what I do." In that case Vic, keep on doing.

Martin Williams
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001

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