Hardcore fans of the ever-quirky, wholly uninhibited Southern singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt definitely seem to be getting more out of Brute—his occasional teaming with Widespread Panic—

Hardcore fans of the ever-quirky, wholly uninhibited Southern singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt definitely seem to be getting more out of Brute—his occasional teaming with Widespread Panic—than fans of the popular jam band. There's the obvious: On Nine High a Pallett, the act's 1995 debut (redelivered as an enhanced disc this month), and on its sophomore effort, the just-issued Co-Balt, Chesnutt serves as bandleader and frontman, singing on—and writing almost—every song. Less apparent is the sense that Widespread (a fellow product of Athens, Ga.) seems to be nudging paraplegic Chesnutt a bit, getting him to kick it up a notch. As a result, such Nine High songs as the hilarious "Good Morning, Mr. Hard On," "Westport Ferry," and "Blight," and, quite honestly, about two-thirds of the Co-Balt cuts compile much of the best work Chesnutt has done in recent years. With Chesnutt issuing a handful of rather disappointing albums since Nine High's original release, Co-Balt feels like a valiant return, especially when listening to his impassioned vocals on such tracks as "Expiration Day" and "Adirondacks." Quite simply, it just seems as though the strong-playing Widespread is able to pull the best out of him. In "Good Morning" (which is accompanied on the reissue with an equally as priceless video that shows Chesnutt in bed with, licking, and even humping, a Liz Phair poster) and "Westport Ferry," Nine High probably boasts Brute's best singles so far. But Co-Balt is, unquestionably, the more consistently effective record, however inconsistent it is stylistically—the album jumps from exciting electric moments ("You Got It All Wrong," one of the few Brute tracks on which Widespread vocalist John Bell's voice is actually distinguishable) to pedal steel-laced folk songs ("Expiration Day," which is as good a folk song as Chesnutt has ever penned).—WO

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