Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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In his liner notes to Vic Chesnutt's North Star DeserterJem Cohen wrote, "I make films, I'm no record producer. But I needed to bring these particular people together in this particular place . . . I thought they might hit it off." Despite his lack of previous experience in the recording studio, Cohen's instincts were right on the money; he teamed Chesnutt with Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and a handful of other notable accompanists (including Fugazi's Guy PicciottoBruce Cawdron of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and Chad Jones and Nadia Moss of Frankie Sparrow) for sessions at Montreal's Hotel2Tango Studios, and the result is a truly extraordinary recording. Chesnutt is a songwriter of singular talents, embracing a homey but keenly intelligent expressionism in his songs that conveys a genuine, often touching humanity, but his collaborators on North Star Deserter have taken his music in a powerful new direction. Rather than simply filling out Chesnutt's melodies, these musicians have crafted soundscapes that often turn these songs into great chaotic symphonies, with Chesnutt's simple but confident acoustic guitar anchoring the whole. Sometimes the accompaniment is simple and subtle, as on "Warm," "Over," and "Rattle," while elsewhere the musicians truly do resemble an orchestra; a small string section adds an air of ominous grandeur to "Glossolalia," a mighty organ brings striking dynamics on "Everything I Say," a mass of harmonies and reverb-soaked guitar meshes gloriously with "You Are Never Alone," washes of sound ebb and flow through the atmospheric "Rustic City Fathers," and the ensemble rises into a glorious fusion of beauty and noise on "Debriefing" and "Marathon." On North Star Deserter, the musicians working with Vic Chesnutt serve as collaborators rather than simple accompanists, and they've truly brought out the best in one another; this is powerful, adventurous music that's as challenging as it is beautiful, and ranks with Chesnutt's finest work to date.


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