Artist: Trixie Whitley
Title: Porta Bohemica
Label:(Strong Blood Music/BMI)
Release: March 2016
Have you ever heard of Chris Whitley? If the answer to that question is ‘no’, then it’s frankly even less likely that you will have heard of his enigmatic daughter, Trixie.
Born in Belgium in the mid ‘80s, Trixie Whitley re-located to New York and began a life saturated by the arts – drumming, dancing, acting, singing… Aged 11, she emerged as an improbably young professional DJ enjoying equally improbable residencies at museums and underground festivals, but at some point, presumably influenced by the primitive, haunting, blues of her father, with whom she began recording in 1997, Ms Whitley ditched the decks, picked up a guitar and started to hone her craft as a songwriter. Her efforts didn’t go unnoticed and at the tender age of 21, she was enlisted by uber-producer, Daniel Lanois, to front his critically acclaimed band, Black Dub.
These days, generally photographed in vintage black and white, slender and striking in her appearance, Whitley’s mysterious, dark persona is perhaps an unwitting representation of the music she creates. Indeed, her 2013 debut ably demonstrated her gift for fusing soul with subtle, mournful indie rock, and her new album, ‘Porta Bohemica’, two years in the making and culled from two albums worth of material, mines the same rich seam. “I came to a lot of realizations making this record,” Trixie reveals. “When you let go of your fears, you can start facing your potential and there is an endless palette of possibilities to explore.
‘Porta Bohemica’ is perhaps best described as ‘post soul’. The arresting simplicity of opening track “Faint Mystery” is breathtaking. Whitley effortlessly wraps her soft, breathy vocals around a guitar accompaniment eerily reminiscent of her father’s unorthodox approach. This template is utilised repeatedly as the record unfolds, and most effectively on the more aggressive evocations of “Soft Spoken Words”, during which her band couple the kind of ragged sonic fidelity espoused by Link Wray with a chorus that’s so memorable it wouldn’t seem out of place on an Adele album.
The counterpoint comes in the form of several off-kilter, taut, spidery songs, “Salt”, “Hourglass” and “Witness” all of which have an icy brutality about them. Like punctuation marks that, by default, structure the album, all three songs are oddly syncopated, unsettlingly indirect and have an urgency that feels at odds with the conventions that dominate the record. The diversion offered therein is arguably calculated. Like her father, Whitley is evidently a wayward talent – someone that leads you to believe they are likely to deliver one thing, but then kicks their heals and abruptly heads off in exactly the direction you didn’t expect.
Unpredictability certainly makes for an interesting, if frustrating career (depending on your perspective). In this case, it’s simply compelling. As a parting shot, Whitley notes, “I hope my music generates a strength through vulnerability that invites people to be courageous enough to explore what’s inside”. Maybe that’s the juxtaposition that sums up the record – vulnerability vs courage. Regardless, ‘Porta Bohemica’ will engage your emotions as well as your eardrums. Enjoy.
Review by Owen Gillham