Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Chris Whitley was a lot of things before his untimely death in 2005, but predictable was not one of them. He refracted elements of blues, rock, folk and soul … often simultaneously, creating music that colored outside genre boundaries while still referencing them. So it’s little surprise that daughter Trixie is similarly positioned to avoid the well-worn paths of singer-songwriters that came before her. That was true of her sumptuous, ground breaking 2013 full length debut Fourth Corner and is arguably more so now as she doubles down on this stunning follow-up.
Like her dad, the younger Whitley alters and combines styles with effortless aplomb; it feels natural and not an exercise to confound listeners. Her dark, earthy, often jazz informed vocals are as comfortable with some of the more progressive moments here as well as the Americana that courses underneath the surface. Songs such as the low-boil funk of “Salt” and the meditative rocker “Witness” twist and twirl in unexpected directions, urged forward by stripped down, percussive driven backing that keeps the listener off balance and the mood often ominous. She also moves into sultry Sade mode on the soulful “Closer,” a tender, bittersweet love song that examines the effects of ageing on romantic attachment.
Tracks like “Soft Spoken Words” (the first single), split the vocal difference between Annie Lennox, Imogen Heap and Kate Bush. Whitley mixes experimental tendencies into an approach like cabaret noir as on the stark, piano accompanied, emotionally riveting closer “The Visitor.” In this rarefied atmosphere, the compressed, rocked up rhythm of “Hourglass” feels somewhat out of place, anchored—as is the entire disc—by Whitley’s entrancing vocals.
She’s a contemporary chanteuse; powerful, artsy, edgy, often hypnotic, never pretentious and her music will hold you rapt through its 9 song, 38 minute duration. It’s clearly created from the heart with little consideration for commercial sensibilities. But it’s far from aloof, especially when Whitley shifts into the simmering soulful swampy “Witness” with her higher octave voice and backing that’s as much Crazy Horse as Peter Gabriel. Kudos to multi-instrumentalist Gus Seyffert who co-produced many tracks and seems like an integral component in the album’s success.
Somewhere, the late Chris Whitley is looking down on his daughter and is very, very proud.