- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

Chris Whitley's career path is the kind parents tell their children not to emulate at least not the early part.
Growing up in Texas, the 40-year-old musician dropped out of high school before his senior year and moved to New York City.
From there, he went from performing on the streets to singing in Belgium to becoming one of the most respected alternative blues rockers in the United States. Mr. Whitley brings those years of experience to the 9:30 Club on Monday.
His new release, "Rocket House," debuted last month with guest appearances by Dave Matthews and rising star DJ Logic (Jason Kibler). The seventh album from the eclectic singer-songwriter combines his alternative rock influences with a desire to try something new.
"I think it's probably my favorite record I've made," Mr. Whitley says from the road. "I'm trying to be more pertinent to now."
That means ditching the typical guy-with-a-guitar model, favored by David Gray, Badly Drawn Boy, Pete Yorn and a host of other young musicians. Mr. Whitley prefers to mix his music up, with heavy acoustic guitar picking from Mr. Matthews on one track, scratching and moody samples from DJ Logic throughout and his 14-year-old daughter, Trixie, singing background vocals on several songs.
"I really wanted it to be gospel music from outer space," Mr. Whitley says of the album. "The studio would be part of the instrument."
For this greater reliance on electronics, Mr. Whitley did several things he never had done before — he started writing songs in the studio, and he worked with other writers on a couple of the tunes.
"Harmonically, I wanted it to be kind of primitive blues," he says.
Although the simple lyrics and Mr. Whitley's gruff voice have a blues feel, the strength of the album comes from DJ Logic's subtle contributions.
"He's not the typical hip-hop DJ," Mr. Whitley says. "We wanted it to be textural rather than just beats or scratching."
DJ Logic's atmospherics add a richness to Mr. Whitley's organic blues sound and push the album above the typical songwriter fare. One of the more remarkable tracks is "From a Photograph," which Mr. Whitley and DJ Logic did in one take, having never played the song before.
A similar rough edge can be found on "Vertical Desert," which Mr. Whitley describes as an attempt to "get away from literal narrative songwriting."
While the unusual path he took on the way to becoming a full musician may not be the best to follow, his current output is worth studying.

WHAT: Chris Whitley with opening act Ike Reilly
WHERE: 9:30 Club, 814 V St. NW
WHEN: Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Monday
TICKETS: $10
PHONE: 202/393-0930

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