I remember reading somewhere that Texas-based singer-songwriter and guitar player Chris Whitley didn't consider himself a singer-songwriter or guitar player. He said he thought of himself as an "expressionist." I think it was then and there that I decided to actively dislike Chris Whitley. It wasn't the easiest thing to do since he makes gorgeously eclectic recordings like some roots-minded answer to Beck. Blues with a side of trip-hop, anyone? And let's face it, the guy can turn a phrase. But his poesy has grown so self-consciously poetic that it sounds like something ripped from the journal of a precocious 15-year-old coffee addict whose grandma told him the beats were way cool. Take this line from his latest record, Hotel Vast Horizon: "No time lost to passers-by/Lonesome transmission/The miles decide/Everyday departures/Loosen from the land/All the wide open returns/In your stride." Expressionist? No. Cubist? Maybe. Pretentious? It is decidedly so.
Whitley will be playing with his band at the Gibson Lounge on Saturday, April 19th, with Messenger labelmates Johnny Society opening, though for my money it should be the other way around. When Johnny Society released Wood in 1998 it looked like Guided By Voices might have some lo-fi Beatles-worshiping competition. But the band got too slick too fast, and their sound began to list in the direction of bad Cheap Trick. (Could working with Robin Zander be to blame?) Their latest, Life Behind the 21st Century Wall, sounds like Cheap Trick trying to write a Stillwater song for Almost Famous II with a little New Orleans blues thrown in to remind us they are with-it.
-- Chris Davis
Living proof that hailing from somewhere as mundane as Akron, Ohio, and being a protégé of Peter Gabriel are not mutually exclusive, singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur emerged from obscurity to critical acclaim with his 2000 sophomore and breakthrough album, Come to Where I'm From, a batch of experimental folk rock variously compared to the likes of Beck, Leonard Cohen, Joe Henry, and the late Jeff Buckley. Arthur hits Memphis this week for a show on The Peabody rooftop Friday, April 18th, as part of 107.5-FM The Pig's excellent "World Class Concert Series." The only way to get tickets is to register online at www.radiopig.com.
The latest installment of Tha Movement goes down this week, Saturday, April 19th, at the Hi-Tone Café. Scheduled performers this month include the reggae band One Stone, Drum Circle, and Memphix's Red Eye Jedi. -- Chris Herrington