by Bliss Bowen

Live At Martyrs'

Chris Whitley's songs are original collages of sinew and 
soul  stream-of-consciousness lyrical impressions and 
evocative sounds, as opposed to neat, linear constructs.

They're not for everyone. They insist on being felt as 
much as heard. Their lingering effect is one of provocative 
mystery, pulsing with combustible emotion. That, combined 
with Whitley's taste for unexpected guitar tunings makes 
a live performance the ideal environment in which to 
experience his music.

Recorded at a club in Chicago, Live at Martyrs' 15 tracks 
include two new songs, "Firefighter" and "Serve You." 
The latter's lyrics ("Now the moon will rise/ On your naked 
faith/ Cause a wave to break/ Where you bathe") are 
typical of Whitley's crystalizing mix of symbolism and 
questioning spirituality. 

His voice uses melody as an emotional springboard. 

Musically, he's moved from atmospheric, rootsy blues-rock 
to grunge to artful noise and back toward raw-boned blues 
again, but on Live, he fuses those sonic elements to 
support the mercurial feel of the music. His voice, by turns 
spectral and fierce, uses melody as an emotional springboard.

"Home Is Where You Get Across", which 
he sends out to his daughter Trixie, is one of the album's 
exciting highlights, as the audience cheers approval of 
Whitley's spirited slide guitar playing. Often praised for the 
ferocity of his attack, he also executes some nimble 
fingerwork on "Long Way Around," "New Machine" and the 
hungrily wailed "Living With the Law".

Background club buzz tumbles over the edges of "From One 
Island to Another," his ruminative Dirt Floor rebuke to 
philosopher John Donne's 16th-century axiom (no man is 
an island). The intermittently detected snatches of 
conversation ironically underscore the meaning of the 
alienated lyrics as well as the intimacy of the club  
and Whitley's music.