Vic Chesnutt | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Vic Chesnutt 

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I've never completely acquired that elusive taste known as Vic Chesnutt, but last year I got pretty stuck on his remarkable The Salesman and Bernadette (Capricorn). In the ridiculously flexible Nashville country-rock orchestra Lambchop, the quirky Athens singer-songwriter finally discovered a backing band that could keep pace with his nutty warbling, which in fact is pretty close kin to Lambchop honcho Kurt Wagner's own paranoid mumbling. The band, which includes ten to a dozen members at any given time, can veer effortlessly from off-kilter soul to baroque waltz to atmospheric dirge, and makes all stops in between. The Salesman and Bernadette is a song cycle about a dysfunctional relationship between the two title characters, who drift from infatuation ("Bernadette & Her Crowd") to romantic warmth ("Replenished") to loneliness ("Maiden") to growing disgust ("Until the Led") to ugly submission ("Arthur Murray"). Chesnutt's narrator is pitiable and sometimes discomfitingly honest ("Dogs are barking / Birds are chirping / The only thing better if I was squirting," he sings in "Maiden"), but his brutal words are laced with fleeting beauties like "Something was released with autumn's first cough" and "Cotton breathes between her cheeks," and he has the rare ability to chart destruction in the first person without resorting to cheap melodrama. Here Chesnutt will be joined only by his wife, Tina, on bass, and much as I like him with Lambchop, his words will probably hit harder without a big band to soften their blows. Local Lambchop representative Deanna Varagona will open Friday's show with her trio, and the morbidly wonderful Handsome Family will set the tone on Saturday. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Danny Clinch.

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