Chris Whitley, |
Serving as a bridge between live performance and studio recording, Chris Whitley effectively captured the best of both worlds on Weed using only a battered National steel guitar, his mournful husky voice and a judiciously placed microphone.
In 2002, Whitley had moved to Dresden, Germany, and his creative output appeared to have reached a higher plane. I have no idea what he discovered in Dresden -- perhaps inspiration in like-minded collaborators -- but his music began to shine like never before. In April 2003, Whitley recorded the brilliant Hotel Vast Horizon and, two months prior, to seemingly mark the closure of his earlier period of work, produced an inspired reimagining of his older material on the album, Weed.
Weed is essentially a two-track mini-disc home recording -- details are unclear but at least some of the songs were recorded in a bathroom. Potential listeners need have no concerns over the sound quality, as it is exceptionally good.
If Whitley were a painter, Weed might represent a set of sketches based on a series of previous works where paint was the medium and dense layers of colour were used to construct the images. Monochromatic and beautiful, Weed is truly the work of an artist and these song-sketches evoke more in their openness and minimalism than might otherwise be revealed through layers of studio trickery and technical enhancements.
The material is drawn almost entirely from three earlier "electric" albums: Living with the Law (1991), Din of Ecstasy (1995) and Terra Incognita (1997). All songs were penned by Whitley and the reinterpretations are sublime. Whitley's restless surging rhythm, the way his guitar becomes an extension of himself and his hoarse, fluid voice sliding in and out of soft falsetto, breathe life into these songs to create the haunted sounds that reminded me of early Skip James or Son House.
My favourite songs appear on the second half of the album: "Narcotic Prayer," "Dust Radio" and the amazing "I Forget You Everyday." These for me are where Whitley's impressive talents combine to produce a powerfully emotive, soulful and mesmerising experience. I won't pretend I understood all of the lyrics, but it's clear they are one with the music, combining a sense of alienation and longing, both spiritual and physical with creative and evocative imagery.
7 June 2008
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