Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect, as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. We’re taking a look at all six of the Vic Chesnutt reissues recently released on New West Records, one at a time. First up is Chesnutt’s barebones, soulful 1990 ‘Little’.
Vic Chesnutt was a man of rare talent; without hyperbole he was easily one of the most versatile and articulate lyricists of his generation, being able to sing of great pain without ever wallowing in it and likewise letting-loose smart quips and witty one-liners in a way that managed to be hilarious without ever diminishing from the moments of gravity in his work. 1990’s debut album ‘Little’ saw Chesnutt step into the studio at the behest of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who produced the album but was sensible enough to simply facilitate the capture of Chesnutt’s songs in raw form. Bar a few vocal and subtle secondary overdubs, ‘Little’ is essentially live-in-the-studio; just Chesnutt and his guitar. Where a lesser songwriter would fall down without the support of an able band, Chesnutt’s songs were so profound, poetic and engrossing that the absence of instrumentation other than his own acoustic guitar was a blessing; anything more would have scuppered the album’s impact.
Although Chesnutt would prove a prolific songwriter over his life – producing some 15 albums in 20 years – few would have quite the same impact as ‘Little’. It’s not to say he struggled to match the lyricism found on his debut (if anything, his songcraft only improved) but the raw honesty and quietly sad observations of his first album make for powerful, emotive listening and certainly lend the record the hallmarks of a standout effort, even in a discography of Chesnutt’s calibre.
Although ‘Little’ did receive a vinyl pressing upon original release in 1990 that pressing is unsurprisingly scarce, given it’s year of issue and the fact that Chesnutt had yet to cultivate much of an audience outside of his local scene. We’re looking at the New West Records reissue that came out earlier this year – this pressing marks the first time the album has been available on vinyl for near enough 30 years and can be found for around £20 in the UK, as opposed to the £50+ that original pressings have historically traded hands for. This reissue is excellent and presents a great opportunity for those wanting to hear ‘Little’ on wax – indeed, although we don’t have an original pressing to compare this reissue with, the inclusion of 5 bonus cuts (that add around 10 minutes to the original half hour runtime) gives this reissue a big advantage over the first issue. The pressing itself is great too; weighing in at 180 grams, it’s a substantial slab of vinyl and one that sounds as good as it looks. Although there were a few errant moments of light noise, by and large this is a silent pressing that allows the remastered music to ring out brightly. Sonically the album sounds rich and defined and this pressing gives much needed breathing room to the music, with a very low noise floor that facilitates total immersion into the fragile, haunting narratives Chesnutt weaves.
Packaging and presentation on this issue is very attractive, with a well made sleeve and slick insert boasting a cohesive art direction that respectfully enhances the album’s original aesthetics. The labels also charm, with a pleasingly succinct layout that nods towards the classy, eye-catching label designs of the ’50s and ’60s, with a vivid colour scheme that has a pleasing continuity with the general art direction. The foldout insert is a very welcome inclusion, providing not only the album’s complete lyrics – a blessing, given their poignancy – but also art and photographs relating to Chesnutt’s early career.
From top to bottom a quality release, ‘Little’ is a fantastic, captivating record and this New West Records reissue proves to be a great way to hear it. With a healthy selection of bonus material, not only does it mark far greater bang for buck than the original issue but also stands as an attractively presented piece with excellent playback.