Picks and Pans Review: Sweet Relief Ii: Gravity of the Situation—the Songs of Vic Chesnutt

updated 08/19/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/19/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Various Artists

Alternative rockers have sure been charitable lately. Hot on the heels of the 21 philanthropic acts that contributed to MOM: Music for Our Mother Ocean (Surfdog/Interscope), R.E.M., Soul Asylum, the Smashing Pumpkins and other top rockers have united to honor paraplegic singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt and to raise funds for the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial aid to musicians with medical problems. The first Sweet Relief installment, released in 1993, benefited singer-songwriter Victoria Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and who duets with Chesnutt on this album.

Chesnutt, who was paralyzed from the waist down in an auto accident 13 years ago, can certainly use the support. But as a relative unknown, he should be careful whose company he keeps—at least on disc. Although he's an evocative lyricist, capable of balancing touching pleas ("Withering") with clever wordplay ("Board games are boring/ May they rot on the shelf"), Chesnutt is not as distinctive a writer as Williams. His songs are sometimes overwhelmed by such superstar quirks as the Pumpkins' chromatic tones and Indigo Girls' slightly dissonant singing. But he does inspire some revelatory turns, such as Madonna's understated harmony vocal, a fitting complement to the grizzled lead provided by her brother-in-law, folk rocker Joe Henry, on "Guilty By Association." And "Gravity of the Situation" actually moves Hootie & the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker to drop his sometimes garbled, histrionic delivery and enunciate. Now that's sweet relief. (Columbia)

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