Recorded in Sydney, Australia, eight months before the Texas guitarist Chris Whitley died of lung cancer at 45, Dislocation Blues marks Whitley’s final studio album. These 13 spooky compositions—some of his best work—remain steeped in country blues.
Whitley and Lang met in 1993. They remained friends and played together through the years. In 2004, they performed shows together in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Australian Lang’s National steel guitar playing ranks him among his country’s finest. Lang serves as a complimentary six-string partner to Whitley, who usually handles all guitar duties while performing and recording.
Whitley and Lang re-worked the traditional song “Stagger Lee” in an eerie rendition that sounds like some backwater soundtrack to an obscure documentary on voodoo in the Louisiana bayou.
Lang’s lap steel and guttural playing shines in his song “Twelve Thousand Miles”. The CD pays for itself just to hear the gritty country-blues version of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. Whitley’s command over vocal phrasing often goes overlooked due to his guitar skills and vivid lyrics that hypnotize the listener.
Grant Cummerford (bass) and Ashley Davies (drums) serve as the solid rhythm section on these recordings. “Rocket House” complete with a Japanese intro on two simultaneous National guitars, plays out like some blue smoke opium-induced dream. Dislocation Blues—like Whitley’s two other classics Living With the Law and Dirt Floor—embodies one continual mood throughout every song threaded together by one fine silver line…
“Dislocation Blues” counts as a Whitley classic. His incandescent National steel playing on this one evokes ghosts at the crossroads…a last fair deal gone down…haunted souls. Then he sings: “Where can the heretic call home?/Orphaned at the tether societies that wither/Vacancy of dislocation riding in the vapour/Sweet and sour nectar.” Whitley’s lyrical alliteration always fits around his sharp melodic hooks. Lang’s chumbush playing on this song is amazing.
They cover Prince’s “Forever In My Life”, and somehow it sounds like they have two small amps in a fishing boat as they play guitars while floating into the swamp’s heart of darkness.
Whitley’s “Velocity Girl” illuminates another one of his unforgettable tales between a man and woman behind a subterranean blues soundscape: “When the sun has gone crashing down and the longing leads your eyes/From the shadows someone calls your name in desire’s veiled disguise/When you’re flashing down elysian fields with them phantoms on parade/Hollow faces of polished steel riders of the blade/Wake up we’re nearly home velocity girl/Stake out your pleasure dome there is a place for us, a pace for us/Now we’re naked in a frozen land dry iced amphetamine/Take the handle in your naked hand/Just a ghost in the machine.”
Another Dylan cover, “Changing of the Guard”, Whitley sings while Lang plays acoustic lap steel and sings alternate verses on an interesting rendition of this cryptic song. “Motion Bride” sounds like some Appalachian rattlesnake jubilee with Lang playing a fretless banjo and Whitley’s country harmonic vocal phrasing.
These songs travel time. The hidden track, Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound On My Trail” remains possibly the best version of the song ever recorded, besides Johnson’s original. This version was recorded in April 2005 on a Sydney radio show.
While he was alive, Whitley drew praise from luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and many others. Whitley’s early death leaves a lingering spirit on Dislocation Blues—an essential volume in the formidable Whitley discography—that contests Whitley falls into the category of a great American bluesman.
- James Calemine