To a hot-blooded 18-year-old American male, facing life in a wheelchair has to look like the trump card of troubles. But Vic Chesnutt, who released the slaphappily bleak album Drunk in 1993, was already spending his nights legless back when he could walk, and he’s been navigating the same muddy artistic waters all along, before and since the 1983 car wreck that broke his neck. Like R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe–the fellow Georgia boy who “discovered” him in the legendary Athens scene of the 80s–Chesnutt’s had the uncomfortable but interesting task of reconciling his rural upbringing with his bohemian pretensions. Stipe coped by cultivating a scenery-chewing liberalism, distancing himself from those damn redneck fundies even as R.E.M. sold a myth of southern down-homeyness to the college kids. Perhaps because his accident put things in perspective or perhaps thanks to a sharper native sense of humor, Chesnutt has settled into a more comfortable role as a tradition-grounded pop pro. After his disappointing stint on Capitol a few years back, 2003’s Silver Lake (New West) sounds unusually lush, and though Chesnutt’s shuffling vignettes are as radio-unfriendly as ever, the disc has a hard-earned bounce–especially on “Fa-La-La,” about a man in a hospital bed who feels so redeemed by the sight of a lively girl on the institution’s grounds that he doesn’t want to go home. Word is that Chesnutt’s been in fantastic voice of late; his touring band, the Amorphous Strums, includes veterans of Elf Power and Sunshine Fix. Friday, December 19, 7:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Johnny Buzzerio.