Co-Balt – Brute
Every time a well-known band and a celebrated singer/songwriter collaborate
on a special project, there is an unavoidable comparison with the works and
projects that each previously created. In the case of Brute's
Vic Chesnutt and Widespread Panic also have the past history of their first
album, Nine High A Pallet, recorded back in 1993. Despite the nearly
year layoff between Brute projects, and the fact that Chesnutt and the six
members of Widespread Panic rarely performed live together across that
time, the same elements that made the first album indulgently charming are
still at work here.
For those not familiar with Brute, the common bond uniting these artists is
the songwriting. Chesnutt's ability to put his acrid, witty poetry to
music puts him in a league all his own. His song catalog consistently
provides the apocalyptic perspective of a hopeless romantic. His voice,
with his strained Southern accent flavoring each track, tends to grow on
the listener more and more as the album progresses. For their part, the
Widespread guys provide rock-solid musical backing, with just enough vocal
support to hold Vic's words up underneath him.
Probably the most amazing thing about this album is that is was recorded
in less than three days at John Keane's studio in Athens, Georgia, where all
musicians call home. The strength of the product is both a testament to
Keane's polished studio skills and the unspoken psychological bond between
Chesnutt and the musicians playing the other instruments. Indeed, it was
recorded almost as an afterthought, immediately following Widespread
Panic's studio sessions for Till The Medicine Takes.
The songs on the album are all written and sung by Chesnutt. "You Got It
All Wrong" is a fitting choice to start. With its matter-of-fact tone
and stair-step guitar lines, it is reminiscent of "Let's Get Down To
Business". "Expiration Day" is poignant Vic Chesnutt at his best.
Even the bright and bumpy piano lead on "Adirondacks" barely conceals
lines about suicide and "getting wasted". "Cutty Sark" also uses lost
love as the chaser for the scotch-soaked lyrics.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The album has great variety in musical styles, with both Chesnutt and Panic
drawing on what they do best. "You're With Me Now" is a ragtime blues
stomp that pares nicely with "Morally Challenged", a twisted little
Southern geography lesson. "Scholarship" is the one song on the album
that Chesnutt wrote specifically
for Widespread Panic. Hard and heavy, it
finds perfect common ground between what all of the participants do best.
No Thanks is another tune that leans towards the hard-rock
habitudes of the Panic boys, while sounding somewhat like an AC/DC tune
with the backing chorus. Puppy Sleeps also represents what Brute is
all about. Dave Schools contributed to this one, as it is the only song on
the album that Chesnutt shares songwriting credit for.
Overall, Co-Balt is a well-performed and well-produced album from
musicians and songwriters with a lifetime of experience to serve as their
guide. It's easy to see how Chesnutt's skill with the pen has influenced
Widespread Panic's own music and songwriting many times over. Even the
word Co-Balt has the implication of something that was created by
than one influence. Fittingly enough, the title track is the best one on
the album. Rhythmic harmonies and subtly graphic verses mesh to create a
seductive tune that grows on the listener like a weed. This album is a
keeper. Better get a copy while it's still in print.