A Thing of Beauty: Chris Whitley Songs

This is one of my favorite songs in the world ever, even if the lyrics leave me slightly flummoxed, because it cuts straight to what always got to me about Chris Whitley’s music. It was immediate but heady, earthy but ethereal, thoughtful and emotional and always so very beautiful.  Even when it was all sweaty.

I’m by no means a music geek.  Even at my most snobbish, I could still see the mainstream from where I stood.  And now I’ve reached an age where I yell about how “In my day, the worst shit on the radio was GREEN DAY,” but I was lucky enough to actually pay attention to a song, Kick the Stones, that was playing under the hotel scene in Thelma and Louise. The song sounded just like the scene, a sleazy one-night stand with a drifter in a cheap motel somewhere in the vast unknown of Oklahoma.  So I bought the cd, “Living with the Law,” and, like everyone else who’s ever discovered Chris Whitley, fell deeply in love.

In retrospect, the cd was an overproduced and homogenized major label release where they discovered this unique, if thorny, talent and slathered it in cream cheese frosting to make it tastier to a wider audience.  But the bones of the songs were there.  For comparison, here are two versions of Kick the Stones, the original and a version Whitley recorded in 2004 for “Weed,” where he stripped away all the trappings of his earlier recording and just let the song come through unfiltered.

Chris Whitley – Kick The Stones (Living With The Law 1991)
Chris Whitley – Kick the Stones (Weed 2004)

He was a difficult artist to peg and he would change stylistically from album to album which made finding him all the more elusive.  He was a musician’s musician, I guess, but more than anything he was this chimera, of this world but separate from it. Years would pass and then I’d hear about some Whitley recording from a couple of years earlier and fall in love all over again.

Sadly, there are no more Whitley releases to discover as he passed quietly in 2005 of lung cancer, leaving a legacy of beautiful and occasionally transcendent music.  I was lucky enough to discover him early on, even if I didn’t always follow his work closely, and I thought I’d share some of his songs with you. And here’s one last song, simple and elegant, just Whitley and his guitar, part of this world but not exactly of it.

Chris Whitley – Loco Girl (Dirt Floor 1998)

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3 Responses to A Thing of Beauty: Chris Whitley Songs

  1. Diana says:

    Thanks for yet another great clip. I’ve only gotten back to music radio in the past year and listen to a great station out of NY, WFUV public radio. It’s one of the few FM’s left that does music, not of the mainstream. I listened to all three versions and found the 1991 to be my favorite. I’ve also googled Whitely and did some reading up, and have book marked a few of his other songs to listen to at my leisure. I look forward to more of these great finds from your site.

    • Dina says:

      Thanks. He was a Sony artist back in the day, so you have Bob to blame for not knowing about him sooner.

      • Diana says:

        I noticed that when i googled him…but who knows…maybe bob does have him…and i just didnt know the name…i will certainly ask him about chris.

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