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Little album cover
Isadora Duncan
Danny Carlisle
Mr. Reilly
Rabbit Box
Speed Racer
Soft Picasso
Independence Day
Stevie Smith
Acting So Bad
Miss Mary
Elberton Fair
Album Information

Total Tracks: 15   Total Length: 43:48

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Isadora Duncan is the song that started it all for me. I remember playing it over and over, stretched out on the floor in front of the stereo, in the dark, with a Pabst. Once this songs gets a-hold of you, the rest will fall into line quickly.

They Say All Music Guide

Vic Chesnutt is a singer/songwriter who can divide a room, and that might be one of the highest compliments one can pay. Listeners can be turned off by his personal style that values storytelling — though not necessarily straightforward narrative — over smooth and even-metered rhymes. But his legion of fans — including many singer/songwriters — embraces these very distinguishing characteristics. He is surely an original, taking up the traditional music streams of folk, country, and rock & roll and producing his own idiosyncratic song style. It is tempting to place Chesnutt in the Southern gothic literary tradition. There is a certain Southern flavor in his songwriting — Southern in the sense that the lyrics are peopled with misfit outsiders who forge their own way, all described through Chesnutt’s own cracked lens. But Chesnutt’s scope extends well beyond the South, with allusions ranging from the San Franciscan expatriate dancer Isadora Duncan to the English poet Stevie Smith, whose voice is heard here in an aural collage tribute. Michael Stipe, who produced Little, felt compelled to get the songs recorded after seeing live performances of Chesnutt. Stipe described Chesnutt as “an acerbic reporter on the events of the town [Athens, GA], who could’ve been lost forever.” The folky and folksy songs on Little are all treated with a D.I.Y. spirit and an unflinching eye, both of which probably come in part from Chesnutt’s background in punk and indie rock as well as his regional influence. Though Little is a dense work, with often unwieldy verbiage and melody occasionally sacrificed in favor of getting a line out, Chesnutt nevertheless sings some gorgeous pop-flavored tunes. At times, as in the opening song, “Isadora Duncan,” the singer caps off verses of cascading imagery and dialogue with a simple singalong chorus, like early Bob Dylan: “Once I dreamed I was dancing with Isadora Duncan/In a silver cafe/It was a cafe not near here/She was planning to diversify and she sang I should do the same/So I whistled to her how I loved her the best,” begins the song about the innovative turn of the century dancer/choreographer. The opening lines resonate with a certain poignancy coming as the first song on the debut record by an artist who had lost his ability to walk in an accident. Chesnutt makes these words — which work as a poem on the page — come alive as song lyrics. But the chorus “She sang ‘I can’t believe you own this attitude’” is a pretty country melody, coupled with a wistful harmony. The song establishes a pattern for much of the record, and the arrangement signals Chesnutt’s archetypal austere sound for many of his subsequent records — featuring the gentle strums of a cheap-sounding, often nylon-string acoustic guitar, wailing harmonica, a Casio-like organ, and Chesnutt’s distinct drawl. Little — which contains a picture of Chesnutt as a little boy dressed in a cowboy outfit with a toy guitar — is largely concerned with childhood or childlike dreamers, including “Danny Carlisle” (“He wanted a tree fort more than anything/He wanted to build and defend one on his own/But the neighbor boys’ BB siege was overwhelming/So he won’t be building his dream fort anymore…Danny Carlisle is barely grown and he’s used up most of his options”) and “Gepetto” (“Apropos! He had to go!/He loved the Alps, but he hated the snow/Things switch, chop a new niche/Soon you won’t remember which one is which/Your sorrow is so silly, what was there to keep him in Italy?/He’ll send you news how he took a cruise/Stuck his sea legs in sailor shoes”). The lush, rich poetry of the lyrics is counterbalanced by Stipe’s stark production, with mostly live-sounding performances by Chesnutt accompanied by little more than his guitar. The recordings were done as demos, “on an October day in 1988 at John Keane’s gussied up studio…me feeling rather rough from the night before,” writes Chesnutt in the liner notes. But the immediacy and bracing energy of the performances led to a 1990 release of them as is by Texas Hotel Records. [There is also a version that includes the bonus tracks "Bernadette," "Vernon," "Acting So Bad," "Miss Mary," and "Elberton Fair."] – Bill Janovitz

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