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[Off The Record]
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Chris Whitley

Ten years ago, when his services were first retained by Sony, Chris Whitley may have briefly been regarded as some kind of semi-trad roots-based singer/songwriter. But even then — and certainly by 1995, when he released his gorgeously bleak noise-charged sophomore disc, Din of Ecstasy — his fingers were already wandering toward the abstract-expressionistic edges of the guitar neck. Whitley’s idiosyncrasies (his dobro playing owes as much to Thurston Moore as it does to Ry Cooder) proved too much for Sony to handle. But he’s continued to find new outlets for his art, and new methods for his madness — from the primal, scrapyard-shack lullabies of 1998’s Dirt Floor (Messenger) to the jazzy covers of his 2000 collaboration with Billy Martin and Chris Wood, Perfect Day (Valley).

Rocket House, his first for Dave Matthews’s ATO imprint, finds the guitarist exploring yet another atmospheric blues outpost, this time with the aid of Medeski Martin & Wood fellow traveler DJ Logic and pomo producer/drummer Tony Mangurian. Fusing trancy techno-beats, trip-hopped grooves, and turntable scratching to bent-note blues guitar is, thanks to Moby, very much in vogue. But Rocket House is more a forum for soulful songwriting than an exercise in coolly conceptualized juxtapositions à la Play. In fact, Logic’s languid rhythmic backdrops rarely take the focus off Whitley’s spectral vocals and the dark, desolate drone of his guitar — and, I’m happy to say, neither does Dave Matthews’s vocal-and-guitar cameo on " Radar. "

(Chris Whitley’s Rocket House band featuring DJ Logic perform this Wednesday, July 11, at the Paradise. Call 617-423-NEXT.)


Issue Date: July 5 - 12, 2001