Chris Whitley died of cancer in November of 2005, a tragedy that robbed us of one of the most distinctive yet unheralded musicians of our time. Inspired and inspiring as Reiter In may be, this product of his last recording sessions is every bit the statement of closure and adieu that The Wind represented for the late Warren Zevon.
The rambunctious electric drone of The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog doesn't sound like a nihilistic rant when Chris Whitley sings, "I'm ready to close my eyes / I'm ready to close my mind." The tone of resigned acceptance and desire to be free of pain are cornerstones of the blues, as much as that genre formed the foundation of Whitley's original music through the years. Accordingly, Whitley and The Bastard Club (a group of versatile musicians with whom he hoped to tour) render Willie Dixon's "Bring it On Home with casual, earthy authenticity.
The informality of loose stops, off-mike chatter and spoken word interludes keep Reiter In from sounding staged. Nevertheless, it ultimately comes across like a statement of purpose from a musician who took himself seriously as an artist, though not so much that he became dangerously self-conscious. The ghostly air that inevitably floats around this albumsymbolized in the concert photo of Whitley on the insetreaches its apex during "Inn, where the comforting cushion of acoustic guitars forms a bed for a single violin and electric slide guitar.
Because it is so reminiscent of Whitley's regular forays into hard rocklike his second album, Din of Ecstasy (1995)"Mountainside, by the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, doesn't effect a jarring transition, but a logical progression. Likewise, the four tracks beginning with the title song effectively form a suite culminating in "Come Home, written by bassist Heiko Schramm (a holdover from the Texas native's most recent recordings): her you can picture Chris Whitley as he walks off-stage (forever) to the sounds of singing, soaring guitars and authoritative four-square stomp. A better closing theme you never heard.
Given his wan, skeletal presence in concert the last couple years, Whitley's demise is not all that much of a surprise. But if you've followed him through the years to note his commitment to his muse, the vigor of his performances on this swan song are no less startling, whether on the cracked hoedown arrangement of Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?" or the composing collaboration with guitarist/producer Kenny Siegal called "I Go Evil that is contemporary blues-rock at its best.
There is more than enough provocative music on Reiter In to move any serious listener to investigate the rest of Whitley's discography, from the watershed debut of Living with the Law (1991) to the haunting Hotel Vast Horizon (2003).
Visit Chris Whitley on the web.
Personnel: Chris Whitley: lead vocals and guitar; Heiko Schramm: bass guitar
and backing vocals; Brian Geltner: drums, vibes, acoustic guitar, backing vocals; Tim
Beattie: harmonica, lap steel, backing vocals; Kenny Siegal: baritone, electric and acoustic
guitars, backing vocals; Sean Balin: violin; Gwen Snyder: vocals and tambourine; Susann
Burger: spoken word.