Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chris Whitley: Dirt Floor

After making a brilliant debut with 1991's raw-boned, searing Living With The Law, Chris Whitley has struggled to live up to his commercial and critical potential, releasing surprisingly amped-up albums like 1995's underrated Din Of Ecstasy and 1997's overrated Terra Incognita. Now, dropped from the major label that did so little to promote him, Whitley is free to return to his acoustic, one-man-and-a-guitar roots. He does so to marvelous effect on the new, clutter-free Dirt Floor, which features nine songs built around no more than Whitley's expressive voice, dobro, acoustic guitar, and occasional banjo; rhythms are provided by the singer's tapping boot. At 27 minutes, Dirt Floor isn't exactly generous—it certainly doesn't wear out its welcome—but what is here is excellent: The winsome "Accordingly," brooding "Loco Girl," and eloquent "Wild Country" stand alongside Living With The Law's "Dust Radio" and "Big Sky Country" as classics, while the more upbeat, banjo-driven "Ballpeen Hammer" varies the album's tone without hampering its dusty atmosphere. Chris Whitley is a remarkable talent, but he's been mishandled in recent years; Dirt Floor is evidence of a welcome return to unadorned form. Here's hoping he finally finds the wide audience he's long deserved. (Messenger, P.O. Box 1607, New York, NY 10113)