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Soft Dangerous Shores

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Album Review

After a pair of internet-only live solo acoustic releases — the excellent Weed and War Crime Blues — the enigmatic Chris Whitley returns to the studio with Soft Dangerous Shores. Produced by Malcolm Burn — who also chaired Whitley's 1991 debut Living with the Law — the set is a deeply atmospheric, intricately textured collection of skeletally arranged expressionistic tunes that have their roots in folk, jazz, rock, and mutant, witchy blues. And unlike Living with the Law, this is a more nocturnal affair and owes no allegiance to country. Accompanied by a small band, Whitley digs deep into drones, open tunings, and edgeless dissonance. Along with his trademark guitar sound, Burn, who plays keyboards, layers in eerie sounds; they float and hover, drift and wave over and through the guitars and percussions. The shuffling snare and bass drum on "Fireroad," anchors Whitley's shapeshifting melodic frame as the National punctuates it all with a taut urgency: "I been making then making the song trespassing home/Engine of Blood, flywheel of bone/Illuminate Me, illuminate you/We could escape fireroads for two..." Feedback and Dan Whitley's electric slip into the middle to add edge and tension. On the title track, drums and loops pop in the foreground, and Whitley fingerpicks an elliptical line in near-whispered restraint as the instruments all bleed together like an opium dream. "As Day Is Long" is the only bona fide rocker on the set, and the guitars heave and hum as keyboards, drums, and sonics rip at the edges. The keyboards in "City of Women" and the rumbling, near-subsonic noise at the bottom make the tune seem truly ominous until a drifty, dreamy bottleneck slide suddenly emerges to hold down the little structure there is. On the final cut, "Breath of Shadows," Whitley plays banjo, stripping everything away from his naked, erotic poetry: "Steal me now/Into breathing rooms/under steaming oaths/til my lips can trace the shade between your thighs. As he sings, Burn feeds in a lone keyboard line, one or two notes that carry the lyrics right into the bone and marrow of the listener. Whitley has not been given proper credit for his innovative and uncompromising method of songwriting and arranging; Soft Dangerous Shores finds him at a whole different level of his craft.

Customer Reviews

Coming Together In The End

It seemed that ever since his debut, Living With The Law, Chris Whitley has been searching for a new way to blend the flesh and blood of acoustic roots music with the electronic age. After many attempts, it finally comes together with Soft Dangerous Shores. With the help of friends he met along the way (the excellent rhythm section of Heiko Schramm and Matthias Macht from Hotel Vast Horizon and Malcolm Burns from the Living With The Law sessions), Whitley seems to have finally found his way home. Unlike previous attempts, such as Rocket House and Din of Ecstacy, his National guitar riffs and ethereal vocals blend seemlessly into the musical tapistry. The songwriting is good here too. Despite his association with the blues and roots music, Chris has always been a very modern songwriter conveying the diversity of his time. Sadly, his time ended soon after this effort and we are left only to speculate what great music was yet to come from this unique and gifted artist.

Certianly one of the best and least known guitarist...

Certianly on of the best and least known guitarists of our time. Chris Whitley was a true "indie" artist dispite the early major label releases. I have been listening to him since "Living With the Law (his first release) and have seen him live twice and met him once. All of his disc are worth having and it is just sad he was taken from us so early at age 45.

Fire Road For Two

The Genius of Fire Road For Two is worth Five Stars alone.


Born: August 31, 1960 in Houston, TX

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Chris Whitley was a Texas-based singer/songwriter who initially began his career as a bluesy roots rocker, but as his career progressed, he moved deeper into rock & roll and alternative rock. Though Whitley's albums usually received positive reviews, they rarely sold, and his tendency to rework his sound prevented him from developing a sizable cult following among singer/songwriter fans. As a child, Whitley moved frequently through the Southeast, eventually moving with his mother to Mexico when...
Full Bio
Soft Dangerous Shores, Chris Whitley
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