Chris Whitley’s music is primal. On his amazing debut album, Living With the Law, and the followup limited-run live promotional EP, Poison Girl, he created a desolate landscape of ghosts rising out of his haunting lyrics, pounding National Triolian guitarwork, and blues-drenched singing. After his debut success, he lost himself in the joys of overdriven electric guitar on Din of Ecstasy. This new album brings him back to Earth, as the title suggests.
This CD features just Whitley armed with his trusty, battered Triolian, laying his world out naked before you. His slide and fretted guitar-playing is percussive and thunderous, accented by his amplified stomping foot. On some cuts he plays banjo, and its rinky-dink sound offers the perfect county fair calliope-like accompaniment to his countrified lyrics.
In interviews, Whitley has consistently eschewed the “bluesman” cloak, and you can hardly blame him for not wanting to be so narrowly categorized given the range of his music. But at times his playing is as primal as the great Son House and his lyrics near the terror of Robert Johnson’s best songs. Call it the blues or call it simply art, either way this is a tough, haunting album.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’98 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.