Toward the end of the short documentary Speed Racer: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Vic Chesnutt, the singer/songwriter talks about his father’s early death. James Chesnutt was an employee with a major airline that was bought out, and under new management, run into the ground. “The evil corporation killed my dad,” he says. So, it’s pretty ironic that his sixth release, About to Choke, is on a major label. Flippant, wry, sometimes messed-up, usually hilarious, Chesnutt is one big crazy quilt of contradictions. He is at once repulsed and attracted by the fundamentalism of his native South; he romanticizes drinking, yet today is confined to a wheelchair because at 18 he crashed his car while driving drunk. And his 1,000-year-old voice sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before—full of Spanish Moss, buzzing mosquitoes, and warm, beery nights. On About to Choke, Chesnutt doesn’t really attempt anything beyond what he’s already accomplished, wearing his big label like a pair of sensible shoes. Songs like “Swelters” and “Little Vacation” are reminiscent of his earlier, Michael Stipe-produced efforts. With his pick superglued to a driving glove, Chesnutt scratches out stark, harshly beautiful melodies. On “Myrtle,” a song that highlights his brilliant wordplays, he rasps, “A funny pilgrim on a crazy crusade/A saucy Chaucer, a sorry chapter mislaid/Whittled with an exacto knife/Plumb right through my load-bearing wall.” He doesn’t wrap his songs in Hallmark paper—he prefers ravaged, kicked-around packages, oddly shaped, broken, and unclaimed. Most people either worship Vic Chesnutt or haven’t heard of him. Now, with a major label behind him, plus the mainstream likes of Hootie and Madonna covering his songs on the Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation benefit album, he should finally get the attention he deserves.

—Cathy Alter