Hotel Vast Horizon
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2003, Volume 10, #9
Written by John Metzger
In 1991, Chris Whitley burst into the spotlight on the strength of the Malcolm Burn-produced Living with the Law. He took four years to follow it up — an eternity in the music business — and has since struggled to achieve the same level of critical and commercial attention that his debut received. That’s not to say that Whitley’s career hasn’t been an interesting one. He’s continuously challenged his fans and himself by tinkering significantly with his sound — exploring everything from the torrent of guitars unleashed on Din of Ecstasy to the quiet, self-accompaniment of Dirt Floor to the electronic sonics and turntable scratchings of Rocket House.
Whitley’s seventh outing Hotel Vast Horizon — eighth if one counts the Live at Martyrs’ concert set — finds him settling into a German recording studio with bass player Heiko Schramm and drummer Matthias Macht. It’s an odd collaboration that merges traditional folk-blues with eerie atmospherics. In other words, it’s the type of album that would have suited Burn's production style quite well had he been invited to join the party. Instead, the album was produced by the trio of Whitley, Schramm, and Macht along with Edgar Röthig, and though it explores some intriguing ideas, it inevitably isn’t all that compelling.
Throughout Hotel Vast Horizon, Whitley’s deep, somber vocals frequently bear a striking resemblance to a hybridization of Willy Porter and Bruce Cockburn, while the music plods along with guitar and banjo laid over a steady, claustrophobic throbbing of drums and bass. All of its twelve songs, however, sound relatively similar, and as a result, listening to the album is more a chore than a pleasure. Still, although this particular experiment doesn’t bear the sweetest fruit, one must admire Whitley for having the courage to continue searching for new ways in which to present his songs. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box