Dead Man’s Blues

I have been listening to the blues a lot lately. It’s music I’ve always enjoyed to a degree, but with a greater interest over the past months than I have for decades, if ever.

This is pure, honest music with several distinct avenues, and history is full of amazing artists who have shaped what we listen to now.

It’s music I need to hear more of. It is music I need to know more about.

Lately I’ve been listening to one musician in particular, a songwriter I was drawn to when I heard a tune off his first album in 1992 on MTV. At that time, I had no idea I’d be craving to hear more of his music, almost 30 years later, as I am right now.

Chris Whitley was the real deal, with the sweetest voice, who played the guitar as naturally as he breathed. It wasn’t accomplished ‘guitar-god’ musicianship, authentic rhythmic picking and strumming. The man knew his way around a National steel guitar. At times with a shade of alt rock, Whitley played the blues, and you feel it as you would Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, or Robert Johnson.

It’s that natural.

Lyrically, the skinny Texan paints a landscape of hardship and humanity like few songwriters of his generation can, or have.

I’ve been digging this dead man’s blues.

Whitley, sadly, died of lung cancer in 2005 at the age of 45.

There are more than a dozen albums to his credit from a 25-year career, and I’ve been trying to find them.

I lost my copy (and lament the loss) of the Living With The Law, the compact disc I purchased in ’92. That album earned the man two Billboard top forty entries, and it was, easily, his most commercially-success effort. He was respected by so many musicians, and mourned by many more after his passing.

I picked up his second album, Din of Ecstasy somewhere in my travels this year, and I lucked out in finding a copy of Terra Incognita last week. I’ve been searching the bins, regularly, at Dead Dog Records, and Sonic Boom, even both locations of Into the Music when I was in Winnipeg a month ago, and I’m on a mission to find as much of his music as I can.

You can find a significant body of his work on You Tube, even a few complete albums, but I, as a semi-serious collector, want tangible, tactile recordings; vinyl or compact disc.

Of particular interest are the acoustic albums, but, right now, I’m pleased to find anything.

It’s rare that I would become this fanatical about one particular artist, but Whitley’s music is that good, that original, and that scarce.

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