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NYC Nights / Cowboy No More, Whitley Rides in New Directions

'THERE ARE A m�lange of influences," says Chris Whitley of

his new recording, "Rocket House" (Ato). "It's sort of like a blues version of

Roni Size or something from [Miles Davis'] 'Bitches Brew,' something more

harmonic than most hip-hop, but we are improvising. It was really a jazz


Which is probably not what you expect to hear from a singer-songwriter best

known for his 1991 "Living With the Law" (Columbia), a stunning and haunting

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series of songs that, along with Lucinda Williams' late '80s work, helped

establish the parameters for the 10 years of alternative country. However,

"Rocket House" may do just as much for establishing singer- songwriter work in

the post-techno era. The recording has a dense, atmospheric sound and unique

instrumentation and songwriting approaches.

"In the last four or five years I've become a lot less inspired by the

singer-songwriter thing," Whitley said by phone from his West Village

apartment. "It's still important to me; I still listen to Dylan. But I feel

like in narrative songwriting that there are so many amazing songs, that

there's got to be some sort of new form. I try to do that [get beyond

narrative] with a couple of songs on this record, 'Vertical Desert' and 'Solid

Iron Heart.'"

Um, how?

"I approached them as if I didn't know what I was writing about. I wanted

them to be slightly free or surrealist, where there wasn't a specific idea in

mind but rather something deeper. I get tired of songs about things; they're

the least challenging. I want to get some other kind of resonance that is

broader and deeper than narrative."

It works for me. "Rocket House" has a dense, slightly abstract sound, which

highlights Whitley's aching voice and piercing falsetto. Yes, Dave Matthews

and Bruce Hornsby play on the recording, but so does DJ Logic, whom Whitley met

in Seattle at a Hendrix tribute.

He, Logic and Vernon Reid jammed after the rehearsals, and now, Logic will

tour with Whitley and play with him Tuesday night at the Bowery Ballroom, 6

Delancey St.

"The DJ thing can be quite cliche these days, but Logic is more of a jazz

guy than a straight-up hip-hop guy. He provided a lot of electronic textures."

Saturday night at the same venue, Whitley will perform with Logic at the DJ's


Whitley says his cowboy image from "Living With the Law" has taken a bit to

live down because "Living With the Law" was so heavily promoted. "When I

stopped looking like that, it was a struggle for me to figure out what to do

next that didn't seem calculated. This new record is the first time that I've

felt clear about something I've done since then.

"If people are expecting sort of a cowboy, well, I can't really be that."

Tickets for Whitley's show are $12 and available via or

at the venue. For more information, call 212-533-2111. Tickets for Logic's show

are $15.

Also Around Town

The Welsh foursome Gorky's Zygotic Mynci brings its mix of prog and

psychedelia to the Bowery Ballroom Wednesday night, where it will play two

sets. The first set will feature acoustic material from its recent EP, "Blue

Trees" (Beggars Banquet). It will plug in for the later set and preview songs

from the upcoming "How I Long to Feel the Summer in My Heart" (Beggars

Banquet), which will be released in September. Tickets are $14.

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