Chris Whitley's 1991 debut, Living with the Law, unleashed a torrent of critical praise and inspired a number of new interpretations of the term "bluesman." While the Houston-born singer-songwriter-guitarist is not likely to convince a purist that he fits the mold, a number of scribes have declared that his work somehow redefines the genre.
What's much less debatable is Whitley's ability to craft compelling, frequently haunting lyrical soundscapes and frame them in a number of roots styles. Along the way, Whitley's dozen-strong discography has at times crossed his poetics with samples and electronics and mixed in jazz, consorting as he has with the likes of DJ Logic and members of Medeski, Martin & Wood. Last year's Hotel Vast Horizon, one of several stripped-down offerings in the catalog, is an engaging set in which subtle stylistic transformations take place within a stark, monochromatic canvas. At times, Whitley's vocal urgency and the folk modality cast him as Richard Thompson's tortured brother, only to morph on the next track into a breezy, almost mellow groove.
Whitley's two new releases, War Crime Blues and Weed, are reportedly available only from his label's Web site or at shows. Your chance to grab them is close at hand.
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