Rhythm & Views

Chris Whitley and Jeff Lang

Pairing the late avant-bluesman Chris Whitley (who died in late 2005) with the even more obscure Aussie roots guitarist Jeff Lang doesn't sound so necessary on paper. But on Dislocation Blues, the results make for what will surely be one of the best blues-music releases of 2007. Whitley injects enough weirdness into the material to balance Lang's traditional approach--and vice versa. Recorded two years ago in Melbourne, Dislocation Blues is a gritty affair that seemingly owes something to the Fat Possum school of gutbucket blues, except that these guys employ an intellectual approach.

With the deathless "Stagger Lee," a song that's about a bad motherfucker who guns down Billy in the Lion's Club, Whitley picks, plucks and scratches at his National guitar (essentially a Dobro); such rough flourishes allow Lang to weave his amplified lap steel licks. Following this haunted rendition of a blues standard is Lang's own "Twelve Thousand Miles," which barrels confidently along like an old muscle car down a lonely stretch of blacktop. Whitley's own "Rocket House," in which Lang, too, grabs a National, is another highlight, having been transformed into an interstellar blues stomp.

With the crack rhythm section of upright bassist Grant Cummerford and drummer Ashley Davies, Whitley and Lang are free to express whatever they want in these originals and covers (including two Bob Dylan tunes, "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and "Changing of the Guard"). None of it holds a candle to Whitley's searing 2006 swan song, Reiter In. But for a compelling introduction to two cult artists, Dislocation Blues is the best place to start.

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