Pain, desire, rage, sorrow, determination and loneliness course through Trixie Whitley’s bluesy moan on her debut album, Fourth Corner. She’s haunted in ways both elemental and cerebral.
Whitley, 25, is the daughter of Chris Whitley, the hard-living Texas bluesman who died in 2005; she grew up hearing him perform in studios and onstage. But Trixie Whitley, whose mother is Belgian, also spent years as a member of theater and dance troupes in Europe before moving to New York City in her teens. After she made an EP, Whitley joined Black Dub, the producer and guitarist Daniel Lanois’ group, which released an album in 2010. The group’s smoldering grooves and reverberant guitars were a perfect fit for Whitley’s own instincts, but she’s even more radical on her own.
Whitley’s mercurial, dramatic songs aren’t tied to the standard forms or plain rhetoric of the blues or pop. Her melodies hop and swoop asymmetrically, and most of them ride choppy patterns of distorted guitars, played and layered by Whitley, that circle and seethe until she’s sung all she needs to say. Hotel No Name has the buzzing, roaring guitar of Neil Young and Crazy Horse; while Silent Rebel Pt 2 hints at Eastern modes. Need Your Love ticks and claws like a Radiohead track, reaching its pleading chorus — “I need your love/I need to feel with you right now” — by way of considerably less clear-cut verses:
Living in the depths of our constellation
With saviors I’ve dared not see
I’m living off of deprivation
Tomorrow may not be.
Now and then, when guitars give way to keyboards (played by Whitley’s co-producer, Thomas Bartlett), she has a more straightforward soul side, approaching Alicia Keys territory. Steady keyboard arpeggios and a moody backdrop of strings carry the album’s first single, Breathe You in My Dreams, a confession of solitary longing that crests in an urgent call-and-response.
Last year Whitley released solo versions of four songs from the album on an EP, Live at the Rockwood Music Hall. But in the studio she and Bartlett have made them darker and eerier; strings, electronics and percussion add new shadows and implications. Whitley’s torments are as much philosophical as personal: “Condemned in the eye of a sleeping mind/Wearing out the window of time,” she sings in Fourth Corner. Yet even when she’s inscrutable, she’s passionate.
— JON PARELES, NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
Kris Kristofferson is 76, and he’ll be the first to tell you what that means. “Wide awake and feeling mortal” are the first words on the first song of his new record, Feeling Mortal. Soon afterward he sings, “I’ve begun to soon descend/like the sun into the sea.” Well, he deserves respect. Let him use a cliche if he wants to. What counteracts the cliche is that no big lessons about existence follow:
Pretty speeches still unspoken
Perfect circles in the sand
Rules and promises I’ve broken
That I still don’t understand.
Over the last 20 years or so a well-signed late-career path has been built for people like this: typically male, English-language, wriggly-persona singer-songwriters born between the mid-1930s and late ‘40s, role-expanders and wild cards. (Among others, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare, Nick Lowe.) They’re making senior-outlaw records. They can strip off layer after layer until they’re basically releasing demos; dress their productions up in slick period sounds or invented aesthetics; interpret songs from wherever. There are labels ready to market this music, clubs ready to book it, a reliable stable of musicians to play it and almost standardized arrangements and production techniques — fiddles, accordions, acoustic bass, brushed drums. The requirement of the central figure is that he must intimate a grave consciousness about aging.