We first met Trixie Whitley in 2010 when she came to the Soundcheck studio with Black Dub, the blues-rock band helmed by producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris) and drummer Brian Blade. Whitley is the daughter of late blues musician Chris Whitley, and has performed herself since toddlerhood -- but despite her lineage, she was still a neophyte among the Black Dub veterans. Yet, once she opened her mouth to sing, this newcomer let loose a raw, powerful rock-inflected soul sound -- somewhere between Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey and Me’shell Ndegeocello -- that more than matched her seasoned counterparts.
It was a voice -- full-throated and passionate -- that at times almost felt too raw. Tense, and intense too. Watching Whitley sing, her eyes scrunched shut, I unwittingly felt my shoulders hunching up in kind of sympathy gesture. So much was at stake. Which is why Whitley’s debut full-length record Fourth Corner is such a triumph. The same emotional delivery and raw performance is there, but any uncertainty is gone. What’s in its place is the more liquid, confident statement of an artist on the verge.
Fourth Corner (out Jan. 29) packs a wallop from the first note of the opener "Irene," a song set over a Dougie Bowne drum loop recorded “in the early nineties in NYC.” The album is off and running from there, from the propulsive “Never Enough” to the exquisitely crafted “Pieces,” the pleading vocal acrobatics of “Need Your Love,” and the searing guitar on “Hotel No Name.”
The title track, “Fourth Corner,” finds the Belgian-born New York-based Whitley searching for home: “Conflicted by the West, challenged by the East / Gotta walk through the border of the Fourth Corner,” she sings. But the album crests with “Breathe You In My Dreams,” and this is where Whitley’s voice is at its silkiest and most emotional, perhaps lighting a fire under the feet of this century's most popular large-voiced blueswoman.
While Whitley handles the majority of the guitars and percussion on the album, she also has the über-talented team of Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a Doveman) and Pat Dillett as her backing band, co-producers and post-production engineers, with string arrangements from Rob Moose. They all leave their imprint too. But Fourth Corner ends where Whitley started: voice and guitar, alone in a room, and going right for the gut.
Audio is no longer available for this feature. But, you can watch a video from the album sessions.