Saturday, October 15, 2011
#20YRSAGO: CHRIS WHITLEY - LIVING WITH THE LAW
I started to think about this, with all the attention being paid to the 20th anniversary of Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's Nevermind. I remembered that The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Bloodsugarsexmagik came out the same day as Nevermind. And then I started thinking about all the amazing music that came out around that time.
All of those albums blew my mind in 1991. But Chris Whitley's debut, Living With The Law, had just as much of an impact on me.
I found out about him because I had tickets to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on their Into The Great Wide Open tour, and Chris was the opening act. Usually, TP had well known artists opening for him. I'd seen him use 'til Tuesday, The Replacements and Lenny Kravitz as openers. But I'd never heard of this Chris Whitley guy. I saw Living With The Law, used, at a small record store, and I picked it up. I don't know that I've ever been so blown away by an artist upon first listen.
It was a dusty blues album, respectful of the past, but not bound to it. The guitar playing was great, but it was always in the service of the songs. The songs were perfect. And his voice was unlike anything I'd ever heard. A little like (who I was also discovering during that same time period) but he had his own story to tell. One listen to this album and I was sold. No hype, no one telling me about him, it was all about the music and nothing but.
When he opened for Tom Petty at Nassau Coliseum, he was a bit out of his element. He wasn't an arena guy. I saw him headline a club in NYC a few months later, and he was incredible. I'd seen him many times after that, with different backing bands, and sometimes solo. Sometimes he blew my mind, other times it was kind of disastrous. I had the privilege of interviewing him twice. It was super exciting and sad at the same time. You could tell he was on a dangerous path.
I love lots of Chris' albums, but none of them match Living With The Law in my mind. I'm glad he was around long enough to make those albums. But if he stopped after this one, he'd still be one of my favorite artists ever.