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Vinyl Corner : Vic Chesnutt Special Part 5 – ‘Silver Lake’

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. For the penultimate entry in our special on the musician, we’re looking at his 2003 effort ‘Silver Lake’.

The Music:

By the time of 2003’s ‘Silver Lake’, Vic Chesnutt was the best part of a decade and a half into his career. His previous four albums (not included in the New West Records reissue series) ranged from sparse contemplations on mortality (the stunning ‘About To Choke’) through to kooky, off-beat home recorded efforts (2001’s CD-only ‘Left To His Own Devices’), in a series of albums that most certainly continued Chesnutt’s trend of reinventing his musical approach with each new album. In many ways ‘Silver Lake’ was a continuation of this attitude; although not entirely unlike certain of his past efforts, the musical palette and emotional tone of the album earmarked it as another decisively individual album in his catalogue.

In typically indefinable style, ‘Silver Lake’ is an album of contradictions; at times achingly melancholic and written with great pathos but at others playful and delivered with an eager bounce, it was an album where spacious, slow-burning reveries exchanged looks with rollicking, eagerly articulated romps in a tonal palette as unpredictable as the artistic moves of the man that created them. The opening duo of ‘I’m Through’ and ‘Stay Inside’ suggest ‘Silver Lake’ to be an album of hard-hitting emotional expulsions but the cheery aplomb of the wistfully humorous ‘Band Camp’ and the wry observations of ‘Girls Say’ confound any such expectations before they really have time to set in. Another rock solid effort from Chesnutt, ‘Silver Lake’ is one of his most dynamic albums both musically and in emotional impact.

Special mention must also go to the four demos included on side four of this reissue. Where the bonus tracks on the previous reissues in this series were previously released on CD in 2004, the bonus tracks here are previously unreleased and otherwise unavailable. Not only is it a pleasure to hear previously unearthed material so many years after Chesnutt’s 2009 death, but this is really great stuff to-boot. Rather than being roughly recorded, primitive versions of songs found on the original album as the demo tag may suggest, these instead take shape simply as alternative arrangements of the songs, by and large as polished as those found on the album. They’re all excellent, but the haunting piano version of ‘Stay Inside’ stands out in particular.

The Pressing:

As with the original 2003 pressing, this reissue is spread over two LPs. Unlike the 1st edition, however, there’s actually more content here with side four being given over to demos. Bearing this in mind, the original album is actually squeezed onto three sides rather than all four. Despite this, it sounds excellent and although we don’t have an original pressing to compare this reissue to, we can’t imagine the original sounding much – if any – better. These are nicely made records, with quiet playback that allows the often spacious, understated music to ring out uninterrupted. We did get a smidgen of noise midway through side one but this was fleeting and otherwise playback was perfect throughout on our copy, with a low to inaudible noise floor that supported the album well and resulted in a great listen.

Remastered for the first time, this reissue sounds great. Broadly speaking, ‘Silver Lake’ can be split into two categories – the first and more prominent of the two are the sparsely arranged, minutely finessed slow-burners which, on this reissue, benefit from a feather-light aura; guitars have an iridescent airiness to them and the presence and drama of Chesnutt’s often stunning vocal work is only exaggerated here. The rest of the album largely exists as a collection of more rock-based songs that, although far from conventional, are at least arranged in a more traditionally propulsive way. These, too, profit from the remaster, with a refreshed sense of clarity in the mix and extra oomph found on certain of the instruments – the chortling bass on ‘Band Camp’ having a particularly pleasing spring in its step.

The Packaging:

As with the other reissues in the series, the presentation on ‘Silver Lake’ is excellent. The records are housed in a well made sleeve that makes up for being non-gatefold by way of high quality print and a very attractive, well laid-out fold-out insert featuring lyrics to the full album as well as a candid shot of Chesnutt and his band in the studio during the making of the album. It’s a really nice inclusion and the essay found therein gives some welcome context to the album. The spine is nice and chunky and has no problems standing out on the shelf simply due to its size – the previous reissues all used bright primary colours on the spine and it would have been nice to see ‘Silver Lake’ continue that trend instead of the black colouring that is used but that’s relatively inconsequential and there’s certainly no faulting the quality of the sleeve itself or the attractive presentation.

Final Thoughts:

Another cohesive, thoughtfully-made release in their reissue series, New West Records once again offer a great way to hear a scarce and notably underrated Vic Chesnutt album on vinyl. It sounds great, it looks great and the previous unreleased bonus tracks are a welcome treat.

Vic Chesnutt