Chris Whitley finds success with hard-to-define style


September 18, 1991|By Greg Kot | Greg Kot,Chicago Tribune

Chris Whitley, a 31-year-old nomad who has never lived more than six years in any one place, has released an album that's as tough to pin down as his past.

Mr. Whitley's "Living With the Law" (Columbia) is slip-between-the-cracks music -- not quite rock, not exactly blues, a stone's throw from country.

It's also one of the year's best albums in any category. One of its songs, "Kick the Stones," became the soundtrack for a torrid love scene in the hit movie "Thelma & Louise." And the album has already earned Mr. Whitley opening slots on prestigious tours by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, with the latter due next Tuesday at the Capital Centre in Landover.

"I dig the fact that he's got some roots in his music," says Mr. Petty. "He has that kind of country-blues thing at the bottom of every song."

By the time he was in his early teens, Mr. Whitley had moved from Connecticut to Mexico. After a move to Vermont he taught himself to play guitar in storybook fashion: while living in a log cabin. After high school, he was scratching out a living in New York playing solo guitar at a time when danceable new-wave was in vogue.

Mr. Whitley responded by bending his music in unnatural directions, and eventually found some success on the festival circuit in Europe.

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