Hour Magazine
RED INTO BLUES
Chris Whitley Bleeds the Delta
by Carl Wilson


I usually nod off at th' blooz as played by young white americans.
It just goes. Eight and twelve-bar phrases go from chords I
to IV to V, followed by a solo full of guitar player magazine
licks and three weeks worth of unimaginably cliched boogie-beer
drinking lyrics....yuccch.

But Chris Whitley was destined to deviate. Resident nowhere
(his itinerary covers New York, Vermont, Belgium, Texas and New 
Orleans), his only baggage is his metal-bodied National steel.
And in his hands, that relic of hawaiian slide and early hillbilly music
doesn't sound like a Labatt's ad - more like a rusty nail knocking around 
in a glass of creek water. Inspired by Hendrix, Coltrane, even
Ingmar Bergman films more than BB King or Eric Clapton, Whitley
will build a spiral on one chord until it snaps - unleashing a dust 
storm, then shakily reining it back in.

His gritty voice may incant an enigma...or a jagged story of
decay ("like a walking translation on a street of lies/singing these 
scrapyard lullabies"). Like the old delta bluesmen, he sings
of the tension between sex and salvation, between freedom and
frailty, but in today's terms.

None of which seems to have endeared him to his sony label,
despite acclaim for his debut acoustic album Living With the Law
or the psyche-electric Din of ecstasy and Terra Incognita 
(recorded in the orbit of producer-superstar Dan Lanois. 
So Whitley's new acoustic Dirt Floor is on little New York
label Messenger Records...and he's promoting his current tour through an 
internet-organized network of volunteers.

Not many musicians could manage that, but Whitley fans tend to be
devoted types, often describing his concerts as "spiritual
experiences". That ain't something you're likely to hear
about Jonny Lang. But then Whitley's music doesn't just go,
it gets gone.

Chris Whitley at Montreal's Cabaret, Sunday April 19th