Last winter, Chet Vincent’s job required a commute from his home in Lawrenceville to Gibsonia. The landscape that he saw each morning on Route 8 started him thinking about a batch of songs he was writing. “It’s like a very bleak Pittsburgh drive,” he says. “That landscape — thinking of what Pittsburgh is like in the winter — was kind of what I was trying to get in the sound. I wanted to keep it spare, and representative of what it’s like to be in this region, in my mind, during this time of year.”
Known around the city as the frontman of the hard-driving Chet Vincent and the Big Bend, the songwriter is equally at home playing solo at open stages. So when he ventured into the studio in early 2017 to record the songs, Vincent enlisted friends from other bands that could play up his singer-songwriter side. Credited as Biirdwatcher, the backing band includes Josh Carter (drums), Jesse Prentiss (bass) and Trish Imbrogno (bass), Read Connolly (pedal steel), Guy Russo (piano) and Nathan Zoob (guitars).
The nine songs on Where the Earth Opens Wide (Misra), which Vincent releases this week, feature both stripped-down acoustic folk and some more electric moments. However, the emphasis is always directed toward Vincent’s vocals and lyrics. In doing so, Vincent creates ideas and characters that bring humanity to that landscape he remembered from his morning drives.
The slow tempo of “Indigo,” complete with a droning organ from James Hart, recalls Pink Floyd. Vincent’s delivery and Zoob’s solo (played on an electric sitar) help the song avoid Floyd’s ponderous approach, even though it began life as a poem loaded with reflection. “The idea behind it was that indigo is a deeper kind of blue,” Vincent explains. “I thought, you can have the blues about everyday things, and then there’s kind of like an existential sadness: How do you express to other people how you see the world, or just [talk about] the impermanence of everything?”
“The Forest Needs the Fire” reflects metaphorically on musical heroes who have died over the past two years. “You have to make space for other people to get their voices out,” Vincent says, referring to the song’s theme. “The big trees die, and then the new trees get to do their thing. That’s what I wrote about: This is sad, but it’s also necessary. That’s how life is. It does it in this really raw way — it cuts people down.”
In addition to the more pensive moments, Vincent offers brighter contrast with the country shuffle of “Boxcar Blues” and “King of America.” The latter was inspired by the country’s leadership, but Vincent weighs in on the topic without getting heavy-handed.
As a fan of album art, and the production process, Vincent created a website, wheretheearthopenswide.com, to provide extra content for the new album. In addition to all the tracks, the site includes demos, live videos and studio ephemera, like chord charts. “It’s kind of a cool way to use all this material that has accumulated in the process and turn it into something,” he says.