Review Summary: Fugazi's Guy Piciotto teams up with A Silver Mt Zion and various other guests to assist Vic Chesnutt on his eleventh album.
The words "criminally underrated" are never used in a more fitting manner than when they are applied to Vic Chesnutt
. A quadriplegic since the age of 18, Chesnutt has been recording since the beginning of the 90s and despite having little mainstream exposure in that period, has caught the eye of numerous other musicians and artists such as Michael Stipe of R.E.M.
(who produced Chesnutt's first two albums). On North Star Deserter
, Chesnutt is joined by high-profile guests such as Guy Piciotto of Fugazi
, the entirety of A Silver Mt. Zion
and Bruce Cawdron of Godspeed You! Black Emperor
At the risk of making the most obvious possible statement, when you put Canada's premier post-rock ensembles in a room with arguably one of the greatest songwriters of recent times and throw in a core member of one of the world's most celebrated punk bands and a number of members from varying other groups associated with the Constellation record label, the result is going to be interesting. Ultimately, North Star Deserter
ends up being unmistakably a Vic Chesnutt album, but with the added flavours of each guest. Resultantly, the album is ambient, sparse and wholly organic. Howard Bilerman's production effort is dry but airy and perfectly suits the acoustic nature of the instruments.
North Star Deserter
's songs are a mishmash of long epics, standard length songs and a couple of shorter pieces. While the presence of a full band makes the longer tracks interesting, it's generally the shorter, more subdued tracks that the strongest. North Star Deserter
's highlight and closing piece, "Rattle", is also its shortest at just 1:29 (half of which is an ambient intro). It's lyrics are simple ("Keeping it on the road/Keeping it on the road/Can't say I didn't rattle below/But I'm keeping it on the road"
), but come to life when paired with Chesnutt's distinctive voice and beautiful acoustic guitar part. Other songs such as the stripped-down "Wallace Stevens" or the Nina Simone
cover "Fodder On Her Wings" consist simply of guitar, vocals and string/wind accompaniment from the members of A Silver Mt. Zion. "You Are Never Alone" and later track "Debriefing" make use of a full band and provide a welcome variation in dynamics.
Chesnutt's lyrics are probably the album's biggest asset, being simultaneously witty and cynical. The upbeat "You Are Never Alone" provides possibly the best example of this, with Chesnutt describing a variety of life-changing events (abortions, religious conversions and quadruple bypasses, for example) and then telling the subjects of the song to simply "keep on keeping on", despite the enormity of such events. What ties all of North Star Deserter
's songs together is the weathered feeling that each track emits, due in no small part to Chesnutt's lyrics and matured voice. Ultimately, Chesnutt has created something earthy and beautiful with North Star Deserter
and at this point, its difficult to imagine another singer/songwriter bettering it this year.
You Are Never Alone
Fodder on Her Wings