Chris Whitley

Whitley returns to form with his new CD. Let's hope he doesn't return to form out of the studio, too.

Back in 1991, Chris Whitley's debut record was a critical favorite played incessantly by indie record store clerks and praised for its atmospheric, consumer-friendly take on the blues. But for all of Whitley's talent on the guitar, he was an overwrought singer who shunned the limelight, and his sound was never easy to assign to a definable genre. Subsequent efforts found Whitley running from the accolades and persistent drug rumors, ditching whatever commercial goodwill he had established -- as if being praised (or accused) were reason enough to change direction. So it's good to hear Soft Dangerous Shores, easily his best in a long while. The album forgoes the lo-fi, solo meanderings of recent efforts to return to what he does best: organic, swampy, trance blues. "Fireroad (For Two)" and "Her Furious Angels" are classic Whitley -- slow, burning moans combine sultry emotion with deep-seated rebellion -- and his acute sensuality knows few bounds. Ironically, Shores may restore his critical standing. If that happens, God knows what demons he might choose to chase.

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