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11.20.05: We Lose Chris Whitley

The video opens, of course, with Chris lighting up a cigarette. He died at 45 from lung cancer. You can hear his voice get softer, more whispery, when you spend a day listening only to CW albums, starting with 1991’s Living with the Law and going all the way through 2005’s Soft Dangerous Shores. When you make that journey, you go from Americana to grunge to acoustic balladry to jazz-inflected covers to sample-driven rock to atmospheric smoothness. He won a Grammy for that first album and then proceeded to never make another one that sounded anything like it. What he did, he did for himself, to satisfy his own musical imperative. But it wasn’t just his  own artistry that drove him: he was burned from the inside out by the fire of the angels who channeled their music straight through him, ruthlessly and relentlessly, until he just burned right up.

How profoundly blessed we were to have him. He blended sexuality and spirituality with a deft hand, making it clear that the two are inseparable and fully blossom when in each other’s presence.

Just as deftly he blended all the sounds he liked into chunks of sorrow or epiphany or adoration or wonderment. Or joy, as he does here, mixing banjo, trip-hop beats, and turntable scratching into a middle-Eastern-sounding ode to the hard-won happiness he’d carved out for himself, celebrating even the rough road he took to get there. “All that which ain’t all good is yet all god,” he sings. What a blessing that we had him to remind us of this. RIP, Chris Whitley.

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