Chris Whitley – Paradise (Boston, MA)
At one point during Chris Whitley’s Boston performance, after a handful of songs had already been performed, the scene onstage looked quite usual for a Whitley concert. Wearing his almost trademark white tank, the 40-year-old singer, songwriter, and blues-styled guitarist stood alone, earnestly pulling out “Phone Call From Leavenworth” (from his 1991 debut Living With The Law) and lacing his low slung, feral vocals around resonant guitar licks, wrenched from a well-worn dobro.
Soon after, Whitley’s new band members rejoined him to finish a set that culled heavily from his new album, Rocket House, which not only includes a full band, but also turntablist DJ Logic scratching on several songs, plus experimental production touches courtesy of drummer Tony Mangurian. Bassist Heiko Schramm and keyboard player Etienne Lytle round out his touring band.
Despite the additional personnel, Rocket House still aches with Whitley’s deep Southern soul that formed compelling focus onstage too, even with DJ Logic’s clever, swift hand on the decks. Only four days into a tour with this band, a few rough spots were apparent: the title track, for example, was disjointed and didn’t come together until the song was ending. Still, the sweet gospel of “Serve You” and the slinky soul of “Something Shines” floated beautifully in the ether.
Unlike genre-benders Beck and Moby, Whitley isn’t out to be a new sensation. Oddly enough, it all felt like coming home.