Like many of his fellow songwriting Texas brethren, Chris Whitley was seemingly weaned on the blues, which reaches into every corner of his songwriting without entirely defining him. Whitley’s vagabond musical nature has traveled from the spare, strummed folk-blues that’s been his staple through a major label alt-rock and grunge phase to electronically textured arrangements (2001’s Rocket House) and back home again to the raw sound of Whitley alone with his guitar. Weed is a revelatory demonstration of Whitley’s craft, stripping away the production that has sometimes obscured it, and providing a stunning retrospective of tracks from his seven prior studio albums. Adorned by nothing but Whitley’s bluesy mumble-croon (at times reminiscent of Shawn Mullins), the focus naturally flows to his unusual rhythms and off-kilter chording which casts him above your typical singer/songwriter. War Crime Blues is of a similar sonic ilk, though the playing is a bit noisier and more primal, abetted by a stomping board which gives a heartbeat to these eleven tracks, including covers of Lou Reed’s “I Can’t Stand It” and The Clash’s “The Call Up.” Together these albums bear witness to Whitley’s tremendous talent, while the live-to-tape recording style captures the notable energy of his live shows.
Chris Whitley appears Thursday, Sept. 30, at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030).
Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.