Vic Chesnutt: Silver Lake (New West Records)/ Rosanne Case: Rules of Travel (Capitol Records)

The songs on Rules of Travel have a timeless quality to them, while Silver Lake feels more like a fresh breath that is meant to be enjoyed in the present.

Songwriting is a craft. It must be nurtured and developed over time. A well-written song has the ability to transport the listener, causing him to reflect, cry, or even take a step back. Some people may never even write one good song in their whole career, while others are driven to make words their nemesis. Two such artists who have been writing great songs throughout their careers are Vic Chesnutt and Rosanne Cash, and now both have released what may be considered their best work to date.

Over the years, Rosanne Cash has had 11 number one singles and while walking her own path from Nashville to New York. She was never quite right for the country crowd. Her confidence as a songwriter has grown, and may have reached its peak on the song “September When it Comes.” On the other hand, Vic Chesnutt has never had a number one single. His career, as his life, has had a few twists and turns. Through it all, he has been writing songs as a way to keep himself alive. His newest release, Silver Lake, is his warmest and most mature recording to date. These are two of the most literate singer-songwriters working today.

Words alone will not carry a song, and on both releases, the balance between lyrics, voice, and music helps to propel these works. Both discs prosper from sparse production and warmth. The songs on Rules of Travel have a timeless quality to them, while Silver Lake feels more like a fresh breath that is meant to be enjoyed in the present.

Cash is not afraid to work with other writers or to have people write songs for her. “Beautiful Pain,” the lead track on the new CD, is written by Canadian Craig Northey. When listening to this track, you get the feeling that this is Cash writing about herself; in fact, one line most closely resembles her: “In love, in love with your beautiful pain…” The highlight of the album has to be the reflective song, “September When it Comes,” as Rosanne shares vocals with her father, Johnny Cash. This is a haunting number that deals with mortality and unresolved issues buried deep within. You can feel time slowly drift away as both father and daughter’s voices sing with a yearning for another chance.

Silver Lake is the album that fans of Vic Chesnutt have been waiting for him to make since he released The Salesman and Bernadette (1998). The slogans and stories on this new release have a spontaneous and natural feel to them; they fit like an old pair of jeans. The first three songs have the confessional feel that let you into the world of Chesnutt. In “Band Camp,” he creates characters and scenes that only the finest Southern writers are capable of. In a line that almost describes Chestnutt as it does the girl in the song, he sings, “You never played the part as it was written/you would always vamp.” Shifting from confessionals to telling stories, we find a song that is as much of a slogan as it is a song. On “2nd Floor,” the music builds as he repeats, “You’ve to climb to the second floor/ short chore great reward.”

Quality writing and music is hard to come by these days. Take some time from worrying about what alert level the country is at, kick back with the smoke of your choice, and wrap yourself around these two great records.

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