label: ATO Records
our score: 3.5 out of 5.0
Down the House
pretty tough to distinguish one musical style from another these
days. The lines between genres are blurring so noticeably that
it won't be long before record store employees will have trouble
deciding under which section to file new releases. The marriage
of rock and rap seemed inevitable, but that didn't make the never-ending
line of Rage Against the Machine rip-offs that it spawned any
more excusable. So now that the rap/rock machine has reached terminal
velocity, the market is ripe for a new aggregate to step up. With
his first release on Dave Matthews' ATO Records, Chris Whitley
has thrown blues and trip-hop in the blender to give us Rocket
If you stop
and think about it, the two sounds aren't really all that far
from each other on the musical family tree. But before you start
conjuring thoughts of the disturbingly jarring combination Howlin'
Wolf and Tricky might create, take a deep breath and imagine Johnny
Lang sitting in for a mellow jam session with a post-Prozac Portishead
as Martina Tooley Bird croons on the occasional verse. A traditional
blues guitarist with six indie albums under his belt, Whitley
has clearly decided to explore the lengths to which he can stretch
his ability. While on previous outings, his guitar was the driving
force behind his music, here it's merely one layer of a dense
sonic package that includes synthesizers, bongos, turntables and
Add the plink
of a spacey banjo to that mix, and you've got the instrumental
lineup for the dizzying "Chain." Fuzzy guitar loops
swoop by like low-flying planes while a start-stop jazz drum drives
the languid trip forward. Whitley's daughter Trixie adds to the
disorienting pleasure as she chants "Round and around, it
At times it
sounds like Whitley has stuffed his guitar into an amp and pulled
it out backward. Wah-wahing riffs zip and zing back and forth
until it's difficult to tell which way they're traveling. With
the serpentine slither of "Say Goodbye," Whitley charms
a synth guitar into Middle Eastern territory. "Rocket House"
keeps the spacey jam going with a drum and bass track layered
with Arabian chants and even a reprise of the album's opening
track "To Joy (Revolution of the Innocents)." Despite
the fact that it never quite gets off the ground, the constant
addition of new elements keeps it interesting.
he settles into traditional stripped-down acoustic blues, Whitley
finds a way to inject a subtle collection of not-so-traditional
computer burps and flutters on "Solid Iron Heart." But
he's at his best when he lets the B.B. King in him take a step
back and make room for his inner-Tricky.
to say "peanut butter" if "jelly" isn't the
next word out of your mouth. Captain Morgan goes best with Coke.
But trip hop and blues? It may not sound like the most likely
of pairings, but on Rocket House, Chris Whitley proves that mixing
seemingly different tastes can create an interesting new flavor.
you wonder when we'll hear a Country/Electronica combo.
liked Rocket House...