Chris Whitley,
Hotel Vast Horizon
(Messenger, 2003)

As the appreciative owner of much of Chris Whitley's recorded work, I find he's one of the few artists whose music I feel compelled to revisit.

There truly was some magic about what he did, and while he appeared to have complete mastery over his instrument, it clearly wasn't his sole reason for making records. Whitley had no time for flashy guitar histrionics; he seemed more intent on creating texture, mood and a sense of space. I believe he was intentionally distilling his music over the years into elusive, fleeting moments that attempted to define fragments of lucidity, ecstasy or even joy.

Whitley could and sometimes did play with an unnerving ferocity, finding beauty and form within a squall of abstracted noise. He played with fervour and sensitivity in equal measure, sometimes threatening to transcend yet remaining tenuously connected to earth. His was a style to which I can find no comparison in popular music.

On two of his later recordings, Hotel Vast Horizon and Soft Dangerous Shores, Whitley appears to have chosen to make music where the principal instrument was his voice. On both albums, his guitar work becomes less prominent and more a part of the whole. Hotel is complex and alluring. It flows with a singular, rarefied vision, and listeners may find themselves drifting trance-like into these songs. There's a constant ebb and flow over an insistent, measured rhythm.

His mellow, husky singing conveys a sense of fragility -- of light and shade, shifting in and out of a higher pitch, as the other band members create layers and aural structures for him to explore, propelling the listener relentlessly into a strange landscape.

Meditative and magnificent; Whitley's complex musical vision is surely fully realized here.

review by
Dirk Logemann

19 July 2008

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