CD Review: Vic Chesnutt, “Skitter on Take-Off”
How much do you know about Vic Chesnutt? You might know that he currently resides in Athens, GA, and that his first two albums were produced by that city’s most famous citizen, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. You might also know that Chesnutt was left partially paralyzed following a car accident in 1983, and that 1996 saw the release of Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, a tribute to Chesnutt. The album featured covers of Chesnutt’s songs by the likes of Madonna, Garbage, REM, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Live. Chesnutt has collaborated with Widespread Panic, Lambchop, Bill Frisell, among others, and he’s released over a dozen albums on various labels over the years.
Skitter On Take-Off is Chesnutt’s first album for Vapor Records. It was produced by indie legend Jonathan Richman and his drummer Tommy Larkin, and they had a very definite idea of how they wanted the album to sound. According to Richman, “We were both thinking that the way to get the feeling for Vic as a listener was to hear just Vic — no arrangements, no guest guitar solos, no “ironic” touches or anything else to cloud his voice or his poetry.” The end result is an album that features Chesnutt on guitar and vocals, Richman on guitar and harmonium, and Larkin on drums. It was recorded completely live, and there were no overdubs.
This is one of those albums that sounds like it was recorded late at night, in a dark room. The subject matter matches the darkness of the mood. Chesnutt wears his anger and bitterness like a badge of honor. He writes songs like a man who doesn’t have the time or inclination to humor you. The songs are straightforward, and straight from his heart. There’s been no fussing around with this syllable or that comma. Chesnutt is guarded, demanding, and sometimes just plain funny as hell. Listen to “Worst Friend,” which is by turns horrifying and hysterical.
Skitter On Take-Off is a short album; all nine songs clock in at well under 40 minutes. The songs have a way of insinuating themselves into your core. Richman and Larkin’s instincts were spot on. This is the way Vic Chesnutt should be heard: at his rawest, unfiltered, most provocative best.