Never one to get so snug with a style as to stick with it for two consecutive albums, Chris Whitley has left the electronic flourishes of 2001's Rocket House behind and recorded with a trio for Hotel Vast Horizon, his seventh studio album, due on Messenger Records on April 15th.
The past five years have been productive for Whitley. Messenger issued the particularly spare Dirt Floor in 1998 -- which featured just Whitley's voice, guitar, occasional banjo and stomping foot. The solo, acoustic -- yet plenty raucous -- concert album Live at Martyrs was released two years later, in 2000, the same year he offered Perfect Day, a collection of atmospheric covers of songs by the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Lou Reed and the Doors, backed by drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood (of Medeski Martin and Wood). Those albums fell a year before the one-album stint on Dave Matthews' ATO Records that resulted in Rocket House. Last year, Legacy issued the career-spanning Long Way Around: An Anthology 1991-2001, which collected songs from nearly all of Whitley's albums and paired them with several previously unreleased demos. And he also found time to provide a soundtrack and score (along with German musicians Warner Poland and Kai-Uwe Kohlschmidt) to the film Pigs Will Fly.
Hotel Vast Horizon doesn't quite sound like any of Whitley's previous albums. Recorded in his current home of Dresden, Germany, with bassist Heiko Schramm and Matthias Macht, it spotlights the singer-songwriter's quieter side, similar to Dirt Floor, but with a richer, busier musical backdrop.
"The instrumentation is pretty acoustic, though it's a little close to Rocket House," Whitley said. "A lot of the songs sound very quiet. I feel like some people are attracted to the atmospheric sense of my music, no matter how the whole record sounds."
Whitley, Schramm and Macht are also working on a soundtrack for an independent German film, though there is no word yet if the music will result in an album.
The track listing for Hotel Vast Horizon:
New Lost World
Breaking Your Fall
Hotel Vast Horizon
Blues for Andre
Wide Open Return
Insurrection at Newtown