CHRIS WHITLEY Live At Martyrs' SPOTLIGHT Unlike cliche-wielding blues pretenders, Chris Whitley follows in the footsteps of the form's pioneers by forging his own soulful path. The singer/songwriter ups the ante on his stark '98 opus, "Dirt Floor," with this stripped-down solo set, recorded live last year at the Chicago club Martyrs'. Whitley's howling-at-the-moon vocals, rawboned guitar polyphony, and rhythmic boot-stomping make for a potent one-man band, and his best songs carry the salutary impact of a well-timed shot of bourbon. Here, he essays new and vintage numbers, all full of romance and regret, brooding and beauty. High points include the dusky title track and gospel-tinged "Big Sky Country" from his classic Columbia debut, "Living With The Law," plus the high-lonesome title tune to "Dirt Floor" and urban dirge "Narcotic Prayer" from the unsung "Din Of Ecstasy." But perhaps most illustrative of Whitley's unique invention is his cover of Kraftwerk's "The Model," as he transforms the satiric electro-pop original into elegiac social commentary. One of the compelling things about singer-guitarist Whitley is the tension between his shyness and his blistering power when he rocks out. That tension fuels live, with Whitley reining himself in until he finally cuts loose, especially on the incendiary "Gasket." Not many can get on stage alone and make this unholy and splendid a racket.