Vic Chesnutt & Elf Power at Exit/In 

Athens, Ga.'s Vic Chesnutt first gained attention in the early ’90s after being plucked from obscurity by fellow Athenian Michael Stipe. Stipe—who produced his first two records—was the first in what would become a long line of taste-makers to take an active interest in the acerbic troubadour. That buzz briefly swelled to mainstream attention when, in 1996, Chesnutt—a paraplegic—became the subject of a tribute album benefiting the Sweet Relief Fund, an organization that provides financial assistance to disabled musicians. While the album's time-capsule roster of Chesnutt devotees—including Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Hootie and the Blowfish, Madonna and others—yielded mixed results, it was enough to land him coverage on MTV, a major label deal and the role of Terence in the Billy Bob Thornton career-maker Sling Blade. This was as close to stardom as Vic Chesnutt would ever come. The label pulled the plug after one record, the film role didn't lead to future cinematic endeavors and the man took his place in the pantheon of cult singer-songwriters. Left with nothing but the invaluable exposure to a dedicated following and the carte blanche to pursue vanity projects without being beholden to mainstream success, Chesnutt went on to collaborate with Widespread Panic—under the Brute moniker—as well as record two albums featuring Nashville's Lambchop as his backing band. Few artists can claim such a breadth of association. For his 2008 release—the deceptively titled—Dark Developments Chesnutt retains the services of Elephant 6 affiliates and Athens urbanites Elf Power, whose kaleidoscopic baroque pop provides the perfectly uplifting canvas for Chesnutt's emotional landscapes. It also doesn't hurt that he gave the Power such a great set of songs to decorate. With titles like "We Are Mean," "Little Fucker" and The Mad Passion of the Stoic," one would expect the literate astringence that has typified much of Chesnutt's work. This time around, however, the knife cuts away, not in. At the times when his voice becomes a seething emotional cauldron the band crescendos with consolatory splendor. Songs like "Teddy Bear" and "Phil the Fiddler," that would otherwise seem solitary, find esprit de corp in the interplay between band and composer. Simply put, the pairing works. The real accomplishment here is that the record transcends instead of wallows, with the band enabling Chesnutt to get his point across, sounding wistfully resolved.
Tue., Feb. 3, 9 p.m., 2009

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