Left to his own devices

I’ve heard about the songwriting genius of Vic Chesnutt for years now, and after listening to his ninth album, comprised of rarities and demos, I can count myself a fan. Chesnutt is an Athens, Ga., folk singer/guitarist who was paralyzed in an early-'80s car wreck involving alcohol and subsequently confined to a wheelchair. After an early career boost from Michael Stipe (as well being cast in Sling Blade and having famous musicians record his songs), he has made increasingly moving and acclaimed albums. As evidenced here, his songs contain harrowing, beautiful melodies that resemble a mix of Cat Stevens’ voice, Michael Hurley’s harmonies and Tom Waits’ recent experimental recording nature. All the instruments (mostly acoustic/electric guitar) are played and recorded by Chesnutt to four-track cassette aided by common production software (Mac protools). Catchy songs like "Very Friendly Lighthouses" and "Hermitage," with its melancholy piano, buried drum mix, and stark ruminations ("wishin’ I had a few clones/to act bad standin'"), are worth the price alone. This is an absorbing album filled with emotion (both dark and light), humorous stream-of-consciousness lyrics, painstakingly constructed musical collages, and great melodies from a genuine alternative folk artist. And it’s just the leftovers from other albums.