Review Summary: "So long, it's been good to know ya!"
I can honestly say that there's no songwriter on this planet comparable to Vic Chesnutt. For anybody who knows him, you probably think I'm saying this because of his handicap, being unable to walk and barely able to use his hands; but, that's not it for me. I think anyone who's found themselves engulfed in his music might know what I'm talking about; every little aspect of his uniquely quiet guitar-playing, his thick Georgian accent, his vocals that often seem on the brink of a breakdown, Vic is a man of subtleties, but all of them stick out immediately. Maybe this sort of paradox is just another piece of his already unlikely puzzle, being a crippled singer-songwriter with a relatively large discography, before he tragically cut his own life short. This album in particular came out a solid 3 months before his death, and this only deepens the incredible depth already contained within.
What's contained within At the Cut
is equal parts Americana, Post-rock, Chamber Pop, Jazz, etc., and somehow it's all done insanely well. Right when you hit play, you're greeted with an eerie silence comparable to a Godspeed You! Black Emperor piece, which is no coincidence, as he is backed by members of Silver Mt. Zion, along with Guy Picciotto producing. This all-star cast never once overshadows Vic, as one might expect; they treat these songs with such sympathy, providing so much texture that was unheard of in his earliest recordings. It's an album made of subtleties, such as the fluttery piano on "Chain," the bare-assed "When the Bottom Fell Out," or the creepy falsetto vocals on "We Hovered With Short Wings." One cut in particular though, stands above all these.
"Flirted With You All My Life" is the kind of song that could basically be seen as the ultimate monolith that stands over Vic's vast discography. It's a rather simple ode to his own death, which he clearly knew was peeking around the corner. He doesn't sing his heart out here, he's not making vast metaphors or telling beautifully humorous stories like he used to; he's literally waiting to die. I want to compare this song to something, but it's seriously in a league of its own. The way he draws out his "oh's" and then just lands on the one-syllable word "death," is easily one of the most powerful vocal parts I've ever heard, and easily one of the more noteworthy moments on the whole Constellation catalog. If nothing else, listen to that song and decide if Vic is for you.
If it's not abundantly clear yet, this is not a happy album. This is not uplifting, which is a quality a lot of Vic's other music actually has in secret. At the Cut
is the sound of a man knowing he is about to die, and somehow it remains a legitimately musically interesting and enjoyable release. Maybe enjoyable is a strong word, but I keep coming back to it. To be quite frank, this is the kind of folk music I'd always wanted to hear, and the fact that it was done in such an effortless manner might be a miracle in and of itself.
Rest in Peace, Vic Chesnutt