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Vinyl Corner : Vic Chesnutt Special Part 2 – ‘West Of Rome’

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 – covering one at a time. In this article we move on to Chesnutt’s sumptuous sophomore effort, 1992’s ‘West Of Rome’.

The Music:

Following up from ‘Little’, his searingly personal debut, couldn’t have been an easy task for Vic Chesnutt. Having come straight out of the gates with a singer/songwriter classic, mining the same creative vein may have risked stagnation. Wisely, Chesnutt decided to go in a new direction for 1992’s follow-up album ‘West Of Rome’; once again calling in Michael Stipe to produce. Where ‘Little’ was sparse and raw, ‘West Of Rome’ was intricate and deep; Chesnutt’s dramatically evocative vocals and melodic guitar now counterpointed by droning cello, deftly played drums and subtle usage of strings. Chesnutt’s songs, too, had changed; although his off-beat, deeply individual worldview was fully intact, the focus had moved away from vignettes on the lives of others (the primary – though certainly not sole – focus of his debut) towards more personal contemplations that were often humorous and sometimes undeniably surreal. It was an album simultaneously profound and strikingly funny – a trait that would define much of Chesnutt’s work going forward and from both an instrumental and lyrical perspective, ‘West Of Rome’ set the tone for the album’s immediate follow-ups.

The Pressing:

Although many of Chesnutt’s albums received short-run vinyl pressings upon original release, just as many didn’t and of all those albums not to initially receive a vinyl release it’s ‘West Of Rome’ that stands out the most – although it would be great to see his other CD only albums given a new lease of life on wax eventually. This 2017 New West Recordings version, then, is the only way to hear ‘West Of Rome’ on vinyl – but thankfully it’s such a great pressing that there’s no need for alternatives. Spread over two discs (both with a substantial heft behind them), it’s a pressing that sounds excellent not only because it’s well made and has very little surface noise but also because sides are just the right length – long enough that they’re not fleeting but short enough that there’s only a handful of tracks per side, a considerable plus for sound quality. They’re well made discs that sit flat on the platter and have no signs of factory handling.

This vinyl version is adapted from the 2004 CD release, which means that not only is the audio remastered – and excellently at that – but the album also includes a generous helping of great bonus tracks totalling some 25 minutes give or take. Not only do these tracks add a lot to the album and overall experience but they also mean that this set represents unequivocal value for money with a total of around 75 minutes of music. Remastering here is excellent, with the instruments having a clarity and liveliness to them and the mix being balanced and clear. The primary focus of Chesnutt’s music was always his lyricism and vocal delivery but ‘West Of Rome’ is one of his most musically illustrious albums and both this pressing and the remaster present the album’s instrumentation in fine form.

The Packaging:

As with the reissue of ‘Little’, presentation is very attractive on this reissue. Although the sleeve is non-gatefold, it is thick-spined and substantially made. The spine stands out on the shelf by way of an eye-catching yellow colouring that really looks great and fits the album’s colour scheme well. Those who prefer to store their records in bins and flip through them are covered too, as spine text is also printed on the top (and bottom) seams, a nice touch that hasn’t been commonly seen on LP sleeves since the early ’90s. Print quality is high here and the original art looks good expanded onto a record sleeve. Also included is a fold out insert featuring an alternative album cover, in addition to photos of Chesnutt and his band as well as lyrics to the full album – a worthy inclusion given what an erudite wordsmith Chesnutt was. Also included is a classy looking download code (redeemable both in MP3 and FLAC); where most DL codes have generic art or none at all, the card included here features the album art in miniature – a small touch, certainly, but one that does suggest a real attention to detail from New West Records.

Final Thoughts:

From both sound quality to presentation, this is a quality release and it’s fantastic to finally see ‘West Of Rome’ released on vinyl. This remastered version with bonus tracks is the definitive version of the album and having it on attractive, well made wax is a treat for fans.

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