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Insightful and off-center

Silver Lake (New West Records)

Vic Chesnutt

By Kevin Gibson

I always thought Vic Chesnutt was a bit of a weirdo. His latest album, Silver Lake, hasn't changed that assessment, but one great thing about weirdos is that they see things in ways most could never fathom. For that reason, weirdos like Chesnutt area always interesting and insightful.

The images and characters Chesnutt paints on this album create quite a portrait of humanity, with all its foibles and endearing quirks. Chesnutt tells us about finding love at band camp and how fleeting that love was, how tragically painful it can be for a boy of 15. "I'm Through" is a proclamation of independence, sad in its wisdom and pain. "I'm dragging my devotion/In a last-ditch retreat/Seeking some safety/I'm tired of bleeding/For no good reason/Is that so hard to see?"

One thing for the uninitiated: Chesnutt's music sounds like nothing else. This is not exactly folk, nor is it rock, nor is it anything else that can be packaged and labeled. While that's a great thing, it can also be disconcerting. Many times our ears like to know what's coming next. There is no such security in a Chesnutt album.

If there is anything remotely familiar here, it's "Fa-la-la," a soaring love ballad for a nurse (Chesnutt was paralyzed in an accident at age 18, so it's possible he is reliving a moment from his recovery with this song). His separation from the nurse tells the sadness he feels at leaving his embodiment of security he's found at the hospital. "Only a fool wouldn't be happy/To leave this cold institution ... But I feel like I'm drying up/Deep down in my bones/Yes, I don't want to go."

Think of Chesnutt as the singer-songwriter for the highly literate. His songs have been compared to Southern literature (think Flannery O'Connor and you're close), which is a pretty keen parallel to draw. Buy this album for the American literature major - or weirdo - in your life and watch their eyes light up.