Vic Chesnutt is a man of few illusions, a man scornful of false pieties and placid facades. Perhaps his passion is a natural outgrowth of becoming a paraplegic in a self-induced drunk driving accident when he was a teenager. If so, the incident has yielded the unsweetened lemonade of his bracing, healthy songcraft.
“The courage of a coward is greater than an all others,” Chesnutt begins his latest CD, quoting Frank Norris’ 19th century novel “McTeague,” then continues with his own words. “A scaredy cat’ll scratch ya, if you back him into a corner. I am a coward.”
Chesnutt gravitates toward such raw, frictive juxtapositions. On his 2007 disc, “North Star Deserter,” he utilizes the cheerleading cliché “keep on keeping on” as a refrain while he gently advises that it’s okay to get an abortion, take the herpes medication Valtrex, or have quadruple bypass surgery. The song is called “You Are Never Alone.”
So, why isn’t Chesnutt simply dismissed as a bitter ass? Because he is equally attuned to, and cherishes, beauty, in language, emotion and visual and musical textures. He can pluck a phrase such as “dead wicked winter/it dances” (from the song “Glossalalia” off “North Star Deserter”) and set it within a chorus of wordless voices and a bowed bass. He can slowly unfurl the phrase (which he partially credits to the poet Lawrnece Ferlinghetti) “I stumbled, so innocently/over all the obscene boundaries,” and make you feel the innocence and the blasphemy — then make it a prelude to a pop song entitled “Concord Country Jubilee.”
The 44-year-old Chesnutt has been turning out strong records since 1990 (there isn’t a bad one in the bunch), and had an early champion in REM’s Michael Stipe, who produced some of his early efforts. But his last two studio projects have united him with members of the groups Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as well as Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto, and given his musical backing new range and depth. There is more impact in the dynamic tension of songs like “Coward” and “Glossalalia.” Now, Chesnutt, who in the past has frequently toured alone or with minimal accompaniment, has taken this crew on the road with him. They’ll be appearing Thursday night at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Vic Chesnutt at the Cedar Cultural Center, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19. Tickets $16.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong date.