Texas born Whitley released his first CD, Living with the Law, in 1991 and released 14 others by the time of his death. Some, like 1998s Dirt Floor, were primarily acoustic recordings, where others used samples, looping and distortion as part of the menu. In 2001, the New York Times said that Whitley evoked Chet Baker or Sonic Youth as much as Robert Johnson, and they were correct. There is no denying that Whitley’s music was always moving, but not always easy listening. I attended one live performance hoping for Whitley’s acoustic work, since he had just released Weed, an all acoustic project recorded in a European bathroom. However, acoustic was not on the menu that night. His old Nationals™ and Dobros™ were run through a myriad of electronic effects into large amps, allowing Whitley to whisper or scream. Whitley was decidedly non-fresh after a 14 hour drive to the venue: he stalked the stage, chain smoking in a non-smoking night club, letting one song bleed into the next. There were few if any song introductions, and the lengthy performance began driving some of the audience to the exits. I left the club after the show physically exhausted and confused, perhaps the exact response Whitley sought.

Sadly, Dislocation Blues was his last release. Whitley paired with Jeff Lang, an Australian artist well known for his slide guitar playing and keening vocals. This is a studio recording that features two live “hidden tracks” at the end. There are a couple of new songs that are Lang and Whitley collaborations, and several re-recordings of Whitley’s songs such as Velocity Girl, Dislocation Blues and Rocket House. Whitley also covers Stagger Lee; Prince’s Forever In My Life; Bob Dylan’s When I Paint My Masterpiece and “trades verses” with Lang on Bob’s Changing of the Guard.

Whitley was a powerful guitarist and vocalist, and his lyrics teeter dangerously close to poetry at times. His mixture of modern and traditional styles was a difficult one for many fans. Some aspects of Whitley screamed “rock star,” whereas others placed him more in the roots music world. Whitley apparently did not care about labels. His work might evoke Hendrix at one moment, and Son House the next. Dislocation Blues is another of his strong projects, and hopefully will open some ears to Jeff Lang’s fine work as well.