Compelling second album from emerging major talent – small but perfectly formed.
Every now then something stops you in your tracks as you trawl through the review material. The album ‘Hard To Be A God’ did just that to this reviewer. It seemed as if a new voice had appeared, a voice hewn from the oaks of the past but with the urgency of a sapling pushing through the forest floor. Strong, vital and urgent but still steeped in a history of antecedents.
Whitney K hails from Toronto and this is his second album released on the tiny but exciting Maple Death Records, who although Canadian are now based in London. The cover of the album perhaps tells you all you need to know without revealing any of the magic that seems to ripple with each track. A dog, rearing over the deceased bodies of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Kris Kristofferson – strange, hallucinatory and vaguely disturbing.
The opener ‘While Digging Through The Snow’ starts as a Cohen-esque tone poem as our narrator leads us through a dreamscape of relationships and a place in the world. There’s Bill Callaghan and laughing Lou here with a mournful fiddle and stentorian piano chords lending weight to every couplet sung spoken in Whitney’s world weary drawl. The simple beauty of the arrangement belying the depth of the lyricism which has a strata of bruised humanity rippling through it. What an opener. Melancholy. Knowing yet wide eyed and naïve and a gorgeous ending too. ‘Not Unlike A Rock’ is more free and easy as Whitney rolls on through on a Grateful Dead vibe as the guitar motif lopes and winds through the narrative and backing vocals pitch in and out. The Velvets have ploughed this furrow in previous lives and the warped refraction still echoes as Whitney finds fresh inspiration. Venus in Plaid shirts. ‘Two Strangers’ is straight Lou even including his familiar guitar chops circa 1968. Driving, wild, derivative, original and seemingly timeless and urgent as bass and guitar collide and Whitney barks rather than beguiles. This is a nugget, a garage classic, a shooting star. The title track is simple guitar and fiddle, an Appalachian lament, almost a palate cleanser before the extraordinarily moving ‘Song For A Friend’ which again references the Velvets but that is just the launch pad for a song of such power and beauty that this reviewer played it at least 6 times back to back and still felt the hairs on his arms lift and a lump appear in his throat. The gentle pulsing chords, sublime fiddle and the build to a glorious crescendo as the strings soar and Whitney sings of regret and the time passed. Of meeting again and hopes dashed and rekindled. The melody is gorgeous and the sentiment almost overwhelming as the arrangement whirls within itself.
So what is this album and who is Whitney K – a pretender who has listened to great songwriters and patched together his tribute? Or something more? Someone who filters influences and distils them into an even headier brew, an alchemist working with precious metal seeking something more valuable?
It is undoubtedly the second. The album has not left the turntable since its arrival. Compelling, fascinating and deeply satisfying even if only five tracks. Indispensable for anyone interested in the future of music who knows its past.