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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1998 | Messenger Records

This is the most consistent and accessible disc of Chris Whitley's off-and-on recording career. The album is just Whitley singing and accompanying himself on banjo, guitar and foot stomp. It has a simple and wonderfully stripped-down sound that fits perfectly with the morose yet tumultuous mood of the songs, establishing a strong atmosphere that is almost as important to the work as the mood in a '40s film noir. This is an exceedingly short work, only 27+ minutes, yet it really shouldn't be much longer. If you were expecting Big Sky Country in sound, you will be both happy and disappointed: happy because there is the same stripped-down, nasal singing and story-songs, and disappointed because there is not as much dobro, nor a band helping him flesh out the tunes. He does an excellent job on the small amount of material here, yet it does not develop into anything due to the lack of time; at the same time, the tone is so very angst-ridden that the short length may work in its favor. There are no liner notes or comments for this disc. What is here is excellent in its own right and stands up as some of his best work; I just wonder if maybe another song or two might have made it a stronger work. © Bob Gottlieb /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2005 | Messenger Records

After a pair of internet-only live solo acoustic releases -- the excellent Weed and War Crime Blues -- the enigmatic Chris Whitley returns to the studio with Soft Dangerous Shores. Produced by Malcolm Burn -- who also chaired Whitley's 1991 debut Living with the Law -- the set is a deeply atmospheric, intricately textured collection of skeletally arranged expressionistic tunes that have their roots in folk, jazz, rock, and mutant, witchy blues. And unlike Living with the Law, this is a more nocturnal affair and owes no allegiance to country. Accompanied by a small band, Whitley digs deep into drones, open tunings, and edgeless dissonance. Along with his trademark guitar sound, Burn, who plays keyboards, layers in eerie sounds; they float and hover, drift and wave over and through the guitars and percussions. The shuffling snare and bass drum on "Fireroad," anchors Whitley's shapeshifting melodic frame as the National punctuates it all with a taut urgency: "I been making then making the song trespassing home/Engine of Blood, flywheel of bone/Illuminate Me, illuminate you/We could escape fireroads for two..." Feedback and Dan Whitley's electric slip into the middle to add edge and tension. On the title track, drums and loops pop in the foreground, and Whitley fingerpicks an elliptical line in near-whispered restraint as the instruments all bleed together like an opium dream. "As Day Is Long" is the only bona fide rocker on the set, and the guitars heave and hum as keyboards, drums, and sonics rip at the edges. The keyboards in "City of Women" and the rumbling, near-subsonic noise at the bottom make the tune seem truly ominous until a drifty, dreamy bottleneck slide suddenly emerges to hold down the little structure there is. On the final cut, "Breath of Shadows," Whitley plays banjo, stripping everything away from his naked, erotic poetry: "Steal me now/Into breathing rooms/under steaming oaths/til my lips can trace the shade between your thighs. As he sings, Burn feeds in a lone keyboard line, one or two notes that carry the lyrics right into the bone and marrow of the listener. Whitley has not been given proper credit for his innovative and uncompromising method of songwriting and arranging; Soft Dangerous Shores finds him at a whole different level of his craft. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2004 | Messenger Records

Weed is one of two albums issued by Chris Whitley as interim offerings between Hotel Vast Horizon and his forthcoming studio outing available only at gigs or from the Messenger Records web site. This volume features solo acoustic versions of songs from his catalog while the other, War Crime Blues, contains eight new songs and three cover tunes, also done solo. Weed is revelatory because it showcases the depth and breadth of Whitley's abilities as a songwriter. When Living With the Law was issued, its many fans identified at least as much with the sound of the record as its material. Over a decade later, it's the songs, naked and alone, that continue to haunt with their spectral power and West Texas desert blues ethos. Tracks like "Big Sky Country," "Kick the Stones," "Living With the Law," "Bordertown," and "I Forget You Everyday," become more poignant, offering their beautiful, raw sexuality and seductively brutal images without hesitation or artifice. Alternately, songs from Din of Ecstasy, Terra Incognita, and Rocket House can be re-evaluated as the work of a master songwriter. Apart from their overdriven beat consciousness and razored guitar scree, they come off as vulnerable yet taut, nocturnal yet still insistent, and as lyrically sophisticated as they are musically anchored to American roots music in all its off-kilter, rhythm-saturated adventurousness. Whitley is a true bluesman, pure and simple, and the evidence lies in his songs. If the studio albums don't immediately give that impression, the immediacy of this humble project, recorded live to Mini Disc, makes that determination unmistakable. For anyone who has ever considered or dismissed him, Weed is the document that demands a new hearing. For those familiar with the material, this set will come as a bolt of lightning across the night sky. For others who have never heard him, the album is the sound of pure unabashed seduction. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop - Released February 4, 1997 | Work

On Terra Incognita, Chris Whitley incorporates the grunge flourishes of Din of Ecstasy into the roots-rock foundations of his debut, Living with the Law. Instead of relying on processed distorted guitars, Whitley uses noise as texture, which helps his songs breathe. While the musical direction of Terra Incognita is considerably more focused than its confused predecessor, Whitley's songwriting remains uneven. Though he has written a better, more diverse record than before, he has yet to produce a set of songs that demonstrate the depth and variety of Living with the Law. Too often, he relies on cliches or simplistic ideas, like the single "Automatic," but when he digs a little deeper, his songs still resonate deeply, which means Terra Incognita is a partial, not a full, comeback. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo