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'at the cut' picks up where 'north star deserter' left off, with the explosive opening tune 'coward' displaying all the epic soaring thrust this band is capable of. vic debuted this song as part of jem cohen's film 'hallucination empires of tin' when it was performed live with the touring band at the 2007 vienna film festival. re-recorded for 'at the cut', it certainly does cut to the chase, as vic bellows 'i am a coward' to trigger a massive unison instrumental line, reinforcing the tunes double-edged opening lyric (and frank norris quote) 'the courage of the coward is greater than all others'. from this bracing beginning, however, at the cut quickly changes temperature and temperament, settling into what is arguably the most intimate, pensive and heartbreaking work of vic chesnutt's career. cowardice, courage, mortality, tenacity, defiance, mourning and memory are its themes. throughout the album, and even on the two tracks that blister and blast with this rocking band 'coward' and 'philip guston' there is a lyrical intimacy and directness, a searingly raw honesty to vics voice and words, that finds no parallel in his body of work to date.
for an album so overtly shaped by ruminations on mortality, by a man from athens, ga who certainly knows of what he sings (having survived a car accident at age 18 that confined him to a wheelchair and has subjected him to an endless cavalcade of complications, procedures, emergencies and towering medical bills ever since), it is both refreshing and unbelievably heartwarming to hear how vic chesnutt sidesteps any of the obvious southern gothic tropes, lyrically and musically. no vaulted arches, gaping abysses or burning fields here - no voicing of the preacher or the devil, no putting on airs. vic manages to sing so authentically and wholeheartedly from and about his sense of place (the south, the wheelchair, 21st century america) because he refuses to sentimentalise any of it and rails against his personal fate without bitterness, without apology, with a poetics of the passionately humanist and secular variety: wholly framed by the back porch, championing a humble wisdom and a natural literateness, certainly permitting a wisecrack or three, but never allowing for anything hackneyed or cornball or fake. 'at the cut' is a bona fide classic by a man better positioned than most to sing it strong and true. on constellation.
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