erasing clouds

Vic Chesnuttt, Left To His Own Devices (Spin Art)

reviewed by Dave heaton

Vic Chesnutt has a special place in the world of music today; he's been thriving on his own terms, writing and recording his increasingly odd pop songs without getting bogged down in the world of radio, video, PR or Billboard charts. He moves from label to label and does what he wants, basically. Chesnutt's latest album, his ninth full-length if you count one done as Brute (a collaboration with Widespread Panic), collects songs he's recorded on his own over the years. He's a word artist, one who gets as much inspiration from poetry as from the history of music, and Left to His Own Devices is sort of like his journals. Some of the songs sound complete, some don't. Some are recorded in rough fashion, others could have fit nicely onto his previous albums. As such, this album on the whole is likely to appeal more to his fans than to newcomers. Still, there's moments than any fan of melody or songcraft should appreciate.

Some of the highlights include the gentle "Very Friendly Lighthouses," which has a killer melody that Chesnutt delivers in a sweetly lowkey manner; "We Should be So Brave," with Chesnutt beautifully singing along with himself and playing around on keyboards; "Hermitage," a slow, meditative ballad; "Caper," a bizarre, space-out, and "Look at Me," an acapella reflection on life and the passing of time.

In general, it's an even looser affair than his more proper albums, meaning mostly that there's more room for abstraction, more lengthy songs where he stretches out a bit, and plenty of creative nonsequiters and odd lyrical juxtapositions. In that regard, Left to His Own Devices is a joy for listeners already attuned to Chesnutt's esoteric style. Something about the informality of it really accentuates certain features of Chesnutt's music. There's songs that really show off his voice, songs that make great use of his oddball lyrical sense, and songs that have a truly spooky atmosphere to them. What's remarkable as well is how unified this album feels, considering the fact that the material was recorded over such a long period.

Left to His Own Devices might have more random, truly bizarre moments than even Chesnutt's other albums, but it still shows off the sublimely gifted musician that he is. It won't be racing up the pop charts (or even the college radio charts), but it's another small treasure from Mr. Chesnutt.

Issue 6, July 2001 | next article

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