Time Out New York
CHRIS WHITLEY
Wetlands; Wednesday, April 22


When I find myself in a club where a singer-songwriter is playing
an acoustic guitar and intoning lyrics of desperation or unease, 
I'm often uncomfortable. This is not because of the frightening, 
intense emotional outpouring generally aspired to by singer-
songwriters, which is intended to prompt souls such as myself to 
cower and whimper, "I can't handle how real this is!" What I 
really can't handle is the absence of a beat, I must have a drum
or some kind of percussive element to convey an urgency that I
can feel.

Chris Whitley usually performs solo, equipped with a Dobro (a
guitar made of steel, rather than of wood), and the one thing 
that makes him more compelling than 95 percent of those who 
similarly present themselves: his foot. While he coaxes shivery
blues-inflected laments out of the ether and moans for redemption,
his foot is close-miked. It keeps exquisite time, definitely doing 
what echno-heads call moving air. When I caught him at the 
Knitting Factory a while back, Whitley would have held my 
attention easily enough with his eerie, modal blues meditations,
but his big, steel-toed beat left me rapt. "Foot stomp" is 
included, alongside banjo, vocals and guitar, in the credits
for Whitley's recent, recorded-in-one-day Dirt Floor (Messenger), 
his first record away from the Sony corporate umbrella. Compared
to its predecessors -- Living With The Law was hampered by Daniel 
Lanois's production; Din of Ecstasy was immersed in festering 
distortion -- Dirt Floor is unadorned and is an accurate taste of
his live performances. Whether his foot creates a heartbeat 
("Indian Summer") or a palpable thump ("Ball Peem Hammer"), it 
ensures that a sure pulse animates even the most barren songscape.
Man cannot live by mood alone. Man must have movement.