Guitar World Acoustic
by Jim Coen
"Quiet music is often more intense than loud music," says Chris Whitley, speaking of Dirt Floor (Messenger), his fourth release and first without a band. After two hard-rocking albums dominated by his own distortion-laden electric playing, Whitley's latest shows him returning to the acoustic sounds of his critically acclaimed 1991 debut, Living with the Law (Columbia). Whitley recorded Dirt Floor in a 200-year-old Vermont farmhouse, with only one stereo ribbon microphone hanging from the ceiling to record his vocals, guitar (banjo for one tune) and foot tapping. Most of the raw, rough-edged tracks were recorded in one day. "The coolest production aspect of it was deciding what time of day to record a song, as opposed to what effects or overdubs to use," he says. "It's unembellished; no extraneous stuff. I've alway responded well to that." Whitley also responds well to vintage guitars, especially his '31 National Triolian steel body guitar, which he plays, in various open tunings, on most of the new album. "I gravitate to it because it sounds rude," he says. "I have a Martin 00-15, but it almost sounds too pretty to write songs with. It doesn't motivate me like the National." While Whitley's slashing slide fills at times make him sound like the spiritual son of Delta bluesman Son House, he admits, "I never studied any old blues records or slide guitarists. I listened to and have high regard for, artists like Son House, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, but I never tried to emulate them." Whitley plans to record with a band again later this year, but will first set out on a solo tour to promote the new CD.