CHRIS WHITLEY SPEAKS SOFTLY
2005 Messenger Records
Chris Whitley does not sell jeans, nor does he star in his own reality-based television show. What Whitley does is something increasingly rare in the music business; he makes consistently interesting, beautiful, and well-crafted music. His newest offering, Soft Dangerous Shores, is no exception. Once again Whitley has paired with producer Malcolm Burn, who produced his 1991 debut, Living with the Law.
As the artwork suggests, Soft Dangerous Shores is a musically atmospheric and thematically sensuous work, punctuated with intensely poetic lyrics. The album’s gorgeously layered opening track, Fireroad, exemplifies this. Fireroad pleads for escape from a post 9/11 world. It features Whitley on steel guitar, while his brother Dan accompanies him on electric. Whitley’s vocals are breathy as he sings, “In Newtown today a virus confirmed, fairgrounds revoked, pleasure gardens upturned … How long will it take before they come, we could escape before dawn, illuminate me illuminate you, we could escape fireroads for two.”
This theme continues as Whitley explores the seductive nature of human relationships, romantic and otherwise, on the pseudo spoken word title track, Soft and Dangerous Shores. Bassist Heiko Schramm and drummer Mathis Macht, both long-time collaborators with Whitley, provide the thumping rhythm on As the Day is Long. The result is so powerful that the listener has little choice but to bounce along.
In contrast, Valley of Innocents is a reflective acoustic piece that is confessional and quiet, while City of Women is a bluesy lament on the tender trap. Perhaps the most upbeat and certainly soulful addition to the collection is Her Furious Angels, which originally appeared on Whitley’s 2003 War Crime Blues. Initially a stripped down blues song, Angels is reborn as an infectious jazz tune. Whitley shows his prowess in the Fusion genre by combining rock and blues on Last Million Miles. The mood turns more somber with Medicine Wheel and End Game Holiday, as both are cautionary tales warning against environmental and political carelessness. Trixie Whitley does a fine job in adding her vocals to her father’s on Medicine Wheel. Trixie also appeared on her father’s 2001 Rocket House.
Soft and Dangerous Shores closes with the deceptively simple Breath of Shadows. Somehow Whitley’s manages to make his voice and a banjo sound profound. Perhaps Whitley has discovered that if you speak softly people will listen more intently.
At first Soft Dangerous Shores, sounds like it may be a departure for Whitley, but upon further inspection, it becomes clear that it is the result of this artist’s musical journey. Chris Whitley has managed to explore his musical horizons and maintain his artistic integrity. Whitley’s experimental nature, attention to detail, and musicianship has endeared him to fans and critics alike. Soft Dangerous Shores does not disappoint either.
*This review was written prior to the death of Chris Whitley in November of 2005. For more information on this extradinordinary artist please visit the following web sites.
Chris Whitley 1960-2005
Christopher Becker Whitley
SOFT DANGEROUS SHORES, 2005 Messenger Records
1. Fireroad (For Two)2. Soft Dangerous Shores3. As Day Is Long4. Valley of The Innocents5. City of Women6. Times Square Machine (N.Y.C. February 1991)7. Her Furious Angels8. Last Million Miles9. Medicine Wheel10. End Game Holiday11. Breath of Shadows
The Musicians and other credits:
Guitar/Vocals: Chris WhitleyAll compositions by Chris WhitleyHeiko Schramm: Bass Guitars Matthias Macht: Drums, Percussion Malcolm Burn: Keyboards, Programming, Processing Chris Whitley: Guitars, Vocals, Banjo Trixie Whitley: Vocals on 9. Dan Whitley; Electric Guitar on 1. / 2. Aaron Comess: Drums on 8. Produced and recorded by Malcolm Burn, Kingston NY, July 2004