Austin CitySearch
Jeremy Reed
CHRIS WHITLEY 
Live At Martyrs'

In regards to musical arrangements and recording (and most things for that matter), 
with technology comes both good and bad. In respect to the rock/blues song, most 
are conceived with only two elements: a voice and a guitar. Two new albums have 
come along—Ted Hawkins' "The Kershaw Sessions" and Chris Whitley's "Live at Martyrs"—
to show that maybe the starting point is also the best place to stop. On these new 
releases, both artists are captured beautifully surrounded only by a mike, guitar and 
their booming, soulful voices. 

Stories of success and sadness don't come much harder than that of Ted Hawkins. 
His voice is reminiscent of his hero, Sam Cooke, and his style of guitar playing was 
like no other—barring chords with his signature black glove. And for a large part of 
his performing career, his stage was the Venice Beach boardwalk. After decades of 
performing to passing people (with some fame overseas), Hawkins released his first 
major recording ("The Last Hundred Years") in America in 1994. In January of the 
following year, he died of a stroke at the age of 57. 

A new collection of live recordings from BBC radio host Andy Kershaw captures all 
the beauty and pain Hawkins' voice could convey. Some of the best renderings 
("Happy Hour," "Bad Dog" and "Ladder of Success") on the album come from a 
recording session that took place in the Eurythmics' hotel room. (Hawkins had 
taken the bus to L.A.'s Sunset Marquis with only his guitar in hand.) This album 
is just another reminder that Hawkins' performances where the ones of legends.

Another player known for defining his own performance style is Chris Whitley. 
Last year, he was part of one of the most unlikely concert circuit pairings as the 
opening act for Alanis Morissette. Each night, Whitley took the stage with his 
National guitar and played like a man possessed by distortion, his own wailing 
and Robert Johnson. Taking both his voice and his guitar to their limits, he provided 
just the right backbeat with his pounding foot. The spirit of those nights are captured 
on the new release, "Live at Martyrs"—recorded over three nights at the Chicago 
club in August of last year.

In 1998, after recording with a band and on a major label (SONY/WORK), Whitley 
moved to a small label and recorded an album ("Dirt Floor") on a two-track in his 
father's barn in Vermont. What he learned in the barn, he took to the stage and 
to his entire catalog. Songs that once were delivered as a band ("God Thing," 
"Big Sky Country," "Gasket") from earlier albums are now stripped down, and 
seemingly purged. The result is pure brilliance.

Hawkins is now gone, only his music remains. While Whitley remains a rare sight 
to see live. Both realized that the heart of the music is what is most important. 
And lucky for us, there are now two albums on the shelves proving just that.