CMJ New Music Monthly
CHRIS WHITLEY Live At Martyrs' Chris Whitley's a singer/songwriter who sounds and looks like he's already been there and back again, like someone who only narrowly escaped an encounter with a reaper he no longer has to fear. His is a bluesier muse than Buckley's, one that finds soulful rattle and open-tuned drone of his dobrow guitar and the earthy-yet-mystical lyrics. As potent a player as he is (as captured here, solo at Martyrs in Chicago over three August nights in 1999), Whitley's reached that hard-to-pinpoint place Buckley seemed to be headed, a place where hard-earned transcendence comes as easily as a 1-4-5 blues. "There's a dirty floor underneath here/To received us when changes fail," Whitley sings against the warning buzz of a few skeletal chords in "Dirt Floor," acknowledging his intimacy with the other side of transcendence, the mortal side you often have to live hard enough to encounter before you find what you're really looking for.