Chris Whitley, a Houston native who grew up in several countries and
eventually settled in New York,
has developed an astounding technique at the guitar
that allows him to play the blues with a metaphysical, Ry Cooder-ian force.
Most important, the songs on Living With The Law (Columbia, 1991)
expressed teenage angst the way punk-rock anti-heroes did.
Armed only with a steel guitar, Whitley penned vignettes and characters
that robbed poets of Americana from Robert Johnson to
Poison Girl, Big Sky Country, Dust Radio,
Bordertown were little masterpieces of realism and
Whitley converted to the electric guitar for
Din Of Ecstasy (Columbia, 1995), an album that seems to be cut
by another artist. Suddenly, one hears echoes of
Jimi Hendrix (Know) and Velvet Underground (Narcotic Prayer)
where Dylan and Cooder reigned.
Suddenly, Whitley is a disciple of
Dinosaur Jr and grunge
Guns And Dolls, Oh God My Heart If Ready and WPL display
his guitar genius, while New Machine is his last homage to the
Terra Incognita (Columbia, 1997) is a compromise between the first
two albums, a blend of acoustic and electric sounds. While it offers a
more complete picture of the artist, it doesn't find a center of balance:
Automatic and Power Down sound a little too tamed, the
grungey Still Point sounds too "a` la mode".
His guitar style lends a few of the songs
(Clear Blue Sky, Aerial, On Cue, Gasket)
a solemn, sinister, almost mystical feeling.
Partially inspired by John Fahey, Whitley "trascended" the blues and the folk
on Dirt Floor (Messenger, 1998) and came up with odd ballads like
Wild Country, Altitude, From One Stand to Another.
Perfect Day (New Machine, 2000) is an album of covers (all of them
Rocket House (New Machine, 2001)
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