Chris Whitley
ROCKET HOUSE · [ 2001 ] ATO Records

01. - Lyrics - To Joy (Revolution Of The Innocents)
02. - Lyrics - Radar
03. - Lyrics - Chain
04. - Lyrics - Say Goodbye
05. - Lyrics - Solid Iron Heart
06. - Lyrics - Rocket House
07. - Lyrics - Serve You
08. - Lyrics - Little Torch
09. - Lyrics - From A Photograph
10. - Lyrics - Vertical Desert
11. - Lyrics - Something Shines

The Musicians and other credits:

Chris Whitley - vocals, guitars, synth guitars, banjo, synth bass
Tony Mangurian - drums, processing and programming, bass, guitar
Stephen Barber - keyboards, piano, synth bass, percussion, jaw harp, programming
DJ Logic - turntables, electronic abstraction
Trixie Whitley - vocals on "Chain," "Serve You"
Blondie Chaplin - vocals, vamps on "To Joy," "Rocket House," "Little Torch," "Shines," "Solectric guitar, vocals on "Radar"
Darren Vigil Grey - percussion on "To Joy"
Jill Momaday - percussion on "To Joy"
Bruce Hornsby - Wurlitzer outro on "Radar"
Chick Graning - vocals on "Rocket House"
Badal Roy - tabla on "Little Torch"
Mark Henry - programming on "Serve You"
Produced by Tony Mangurian

/ Press Reviews /

David Todoran - Whatzup Indiana Entertainment Weekly, June 2001

For the past year or so, I've been aware of Chris Whitley's intentions to do what he termed "a techno album." With the free reign afforded by Dave Matthews' fledgling ATO Records, and sonic spark provided by producer/percussionist Tony Mangurian, Whitley's bold vision has come to pass.

The sonic collage created by Whitley and Mangurian is nothing less than cinematic in scope. Tape effects and looped guitars recall the deep and often dissonant textures that mark most of Whitley's output, but unlike any of Whitley's previous studio efforts, Mangurian breaks down the wall of guitars, preferring instead layers of electronica: turntable effects, synth guitars, programmed drums, and distorted vocal loops swirl and scatter in and out of the picture while Whitley's vocal remains squarely in focus. Imagine a film in which scenes, backgrounds, and supporting cast move and shift in varying degrees of time lapse photography while the main character alone moves in real time.

A rolling banjo riff drives the groove of "Joy," while on "Radar" (with guests Dave Matthews and Bruce Hornsby) grand piano and Wurlitzer accents percolate to the surface of the dense mix. A stark resonator guitar figure intermittently parts the wash of keyboards and sampled Japanese koto on "Chain," while an eerie ghost vocal (provided by Whitley's teenage daughter Trixie) flows over and around Whitley's breathy falsetto. On the title track, the various components work independent of---almost oblivious of---the insistent pulse of Mangurian's drum track. It's an ambidextrous mix of right brain/left brain action where all parts work independently and yet converge to buoy up Whitley's vocal and gently plucked resonator guitar. The overall effect is not unlike the sort of controlled cacophony conjured up by Miles Davis on BITCHES BREW---that is, if Davis had written three minute slices of abstract, pop-rock poetry. In direct contrast, tracks like "Solid Iron Heart," "Little Torch" and "Vertical Desert" fall back on more familiar territory with bluesy guitar and gospel-tinged vocals accented only by an occasional tabla or DJ Logic's "electronic abstractions."

While the unique contributions of DJ Logic, and Mangurian (who co-wrote three tracks) may at first be a bit disconcerting to purists expecting the more organic guitar-based approach of Whitley's work of late, ROCKET HOUSE's experiment in electronica---to my ears--- captures the spirit of existential eroticism at the heart of Whitley's best work. The most crucial elements of Whitley's recorded output so far--- the aggressive intensity of DIN OF ECSTASY, the pop smarts of TERRA INCOGNITA, the subtle dreamscapes of LIVING WITH THE LAW---even a dose of the stark realism of DIRT FLOOR--- are effectively recast in his most metamorphic album to date.

Derek Simmonsen - The Washington Times

Chris Whitley's career path is the kind parents tell their children not to emulate at least not the early part.

Growing up in Texas, the 40-year-old musician dropped out of high school before his senior year and moved to New York City. From there, he went from performing on the streets to singing in Belgium to becoming one of the most respected alternative blues rockers in the United States. Mr. Whitley brings those years of experience to the 9:30 Club on Monday.

His new release, "Rocket House," debuted last month with guest appearances by Dave Matthews and rising star DJ Logic (Jason Kibler). The seventh album from the eclectic singer-songwriter combines his alternative rock influences with a desire to try something new.

"I think it's probably my favorite record I've made," Mr. Whitley says from the road. "I'm trying to be more pertinent to now."

That means ditching the typical guy-with-a-guitar model, favored by David Gray, Badly Drawn Boy, Pete Yorn and a host of other young musicians. Mr. Whitley prefers to mix his music up, with heavy acoustic guitar picking from Mr. Matthews on one track, scratching and moody samples from DJ Logic throughout and his 14-year-old daughter, Trixie, singing background vocals on several songs.

"I really wanted it to be gospel music from outer space," Mr. Whitley says of the album. "The studio would be part of the instrument."

For this greater reliance on electronics, Mr. Whitley did several things he never had done before -- he started writing songs in the studio, and he worked with other writers on a couple of the tunes.

"Harmonically, I wanted it to be kind of primitive blues," he says.

Although the simple lyrics and Mr. Whitley's gruff voice have a blues feel, the strength of the album comes from DJ Logic's subtle contributions.

"He's not the typical hip-hop DJ," Mr. Whitley says. "We wanted it to be textural rather than just beats or scratching."

DJ Logic's atmospherics add a richness to Mr. Whitley's organic blues sound and push the album above the typical songwriter fare. One of the more remarkable tracks is "From a Photograph," which Mr. Whitley and DJ Logic did in one take, having never played the song before.

A similar rough edge can be found on "Vertical Desert," which Mr. Whitley describes as an attempt to "get away from literal narrative songwriting."

While the unusual path he took on the way to becoming a full musician may not be the best to follow, his current output is worth studying.
Derek Simmonsen - The Washington Times

Curt Fields - The Washington Post

Look for an easy label to pin on Chris Whitley and it'll take a while. His latest style is part bluesy singer-songwriter and part electronica collagist. Of course, considering that his repertoire includes a cover of Kraftwerk's "The Model," such a sound shouldn't be too surprising. (And we won't even get into the Prince covers he used to perform in Europe.)

There are nods to his early, rootsier work ("Solid Iron Heart"), but much of "Rocket House" consists of atmospheric, electronic-based pieces ("To Joy," "Chain," the title cut), using heavily processed instruments and scratching to establish a mood. The blending extends to some of the vocals -- Whitley's 14-year-old daughter, Trixie, adds a hook that's used as if it were another instrument in the mix on "Chain."

Whitley, whose recording career started in 1991 after a chance encounter with noted producer Daniel Lanois at a photo shoot, has some celebrity help on this outing. Dave Matthews (founder of the ATO label) and Bruce Hornsby turn up on "Radar." And DJ Logic makes his presence felt throughout with his turntable work and "electronic abstraction," as the credits put it.

Wearing the producer's hat is Tony Mangurian, who's worked most often with Luscious Jackson. Mangurian, Whitley and DJ Logic create a thoroughly seamless sound where everything from break beats to samples to acoustic guitar to blues-inflected vocals fit together not only perfectly, but naturally.

© | Credits