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vic chesnutt - North Star Deserter
*Incredible album featuring all seven members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, along with Guy Picciotto (Fugazi), Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) plus members of Hanged Up and Frankie Sparo amongst others* Vic Chesnutt is an artist who is just hugely influential - and there are no shortage of artists ready to reference him as a favourite - Madonna, REM and The Smashing Pumpkins all jumped out of their respective holes to show their support for the singer songwriter when a tribute album was curated not so long ago. A few folk with more underground credentials who have been playing his albums to death, though, are the people at Montreal's Constellation imprint. Chesnutt was apparently on hand when the label was conceived back in 1997 and you get the feeling releasing his latest work has truly been a labour of love. The opportunity came about when filmmaker Jem Cohen (a good friend of both Chesnutt and the Constellation crew) suggested that Chesnutt record his next album at the Hotel2Tango studio in Montreal, the studio that Constellation run. Eventually the date was set and with Cohen on production duties and half the Constellation label playing as Chesnutt's backing band (with members of Silver Mount Zion and Guy Picciotto from Fugazi taking up the helm) recordings were made and everyone who heard them was left deeply impressed. Constellation of course immediately offered to put the record out, and that's exactly what we have here - a record which will no doubt become known as Vic Chesnutt's finest collection of songs to date. The first thing you notice is the stunning production, and that's not saying this is clean or glossy, quite the opposite in fact - this is dirty, almost growling production with a chunky rhythm section, cascading, ear battering strings and overdriven electric guitars accompanying Chesnutt's knowing voice and poetic lyrical content. It is the perfect marriage, and Chesnutt sounds totally at ease with the production, the way his deeply personal songs have been extended and engineered into small films. Take a song like 'Everything I Say' for example - at seven minutes long it's one of a handful of epics that inhabit the record, and builds from quiet, haunting intensity into cacophonous noise worthy of anything Godspeed You! Black Emperor might have produced. 'North Star Deserter' is a stunning record, at all times folk, blues and old time rock music but simultaneously daringly contemporary and in being so is the best thing we've heard from Constellation in quite some time. Quite a stunning album - Huge Recommendation.