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Dirt Floor

by: Chris Whitley

Album Artwork

(Messenger Records)

Chris Whitley's 1998 release Dirt Floor counts as his 4th studio album. Besides his debut disc--Living With The Law--Dirt Floor contends as his finest recording. An acoustic album, Dirt Floor features only Whitley playing guitar, banjo and singing. The 30-minute collection was recorded during one December day in a Vermont barn. Whitley died of lung cancer at 45. Dirt Floor places Whitley in the category of one of America's seminal bluesman.

"Scrapyard Lullaby" opens the disc and emerges as one of the Whitley's strongest compositions, where he sings "Like a walking translation down a street of lies/Singing these scrapyard lullabyes." The banjo tune "Indian Summer" tells of a homeless soul in the street where a "poor man walks in sin/Down on the pavement the laws are learned/It's so hard to get warm where it's so easy to get burned."

"Accordingly" retains a zen-like quality in its stark, simple beauty. "Wild Country" proves Whitley's undeniable emotive power when it comes to songwriting. The unrestrained conviction on "Ball Peen Hammer" is not easily forgotten. This collection contains excellent musicianship--hands down. "Altitude" displays Whitley's cutthroat muse at its most resonating. The two-minute title track may be the best song Whitley ever wrote. The universal lyrics render the tune a masterpiece in the face of death:

There's a dirt floor underneath here
To receive us when changes fail
May this shovel loose your trouble
Let them fall away

Well the mist shall be your blanket
While the moss shall ease your head
As the future is soon forgotten
As the dirt shall be your bed

There's a dirt floor underneath here
To receive us when changes fail
May this shovel loose your trouble
Let them fall away


Dirt Floor's final track, "Loco Girl" tells the sad story of an old love resurfacing in the harsh present time where nothing resembles the past. Chris Whitley's Dirt Floor is art of the highest order...

James Calemine

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