'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
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
"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
"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 www.ticketweb.com or
at the venue. For more information, call 212-533-2111. Tickets for Logic's show
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.