Chris Whitley: "Walk it with the spirit/Talk it with the spine"

While Bruce’s performance on the Grammy’s was inspiring, I got a shock during the roll call of those people that had passed away in the past year. Chris Whitley died in November of lung cancer at the age of 45.

My two favorite Chris Whitley Albums:

“Living With The Law” (1991):

“Chris Whitley’s extraordinary debut album, is fantasy blues – bona fide poetry and National steel guitar conjuring dream imagery from some surreal western movie. Riveting and original, Whitley mines roots music not as an imitator but as a visionary who trades on archetypal symbols and classic riffs to fashion his own twilit American mythology . . .Often, a song will begin w ith Whitley singing and playing spare slide-guitar melodies; gradually, as the full band kicks in, the song mounts to an electric, drum-heavy crescendo. Chris’s brother, Daniel, joins him on guitar for the feedback frenzy that climaxes “Long Way Around.” On the title track and elsewhere, snare drums brushed lightly meet up with bass lines as heavy as a farmer’s boots . . .there hasn’t been music as wise as Whitley’s in quite some time.

–Paul Evans, Rolling Stone

“Dirt Floor” (1998):

“They point to the gaunt, pale figure on the cover of the recently released Dirt Floor and assert that his is a body slowly being worn down by the music he plays, this melancholy brand of acoustic blues that drips with crucifixion imagery and dead-dog-on-the-side-of-the-road fatalism. They listen to his voice – neither from the heart nor from the gut, neither sweet nor sullen, neither white nor black – and drown in its somber hues . . .Dirt Floor, released on a tiny label run by a 24-year-old kid out of his New York apartment, is the answer to their prayers; it’s the sound made when a man is dropped from his label and then goes chasing ghosts around his daddy’s abandoned farmhouse in Vermont. . .It’s a good record, a creepy record, a vaguely uplifting record in a wretched sort of way, and a good record for a man to tour behind, as he doesn’t need anyone to play it but himself. And it doesn’t sound like the blues, but you know it is anyway.”

–Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Observer

That such an adventurous musician (he mixed his blues with country, folk, hard rock, electronica) was not a household name is perhaps not surprising. However, we have his music. It was an unusual voice, but also unusually gifted. Listen.

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