By Mike Joyce
Friday, February 1, 2013
“Fourth Corner” isn’t the sort of stellar debut that knocks you sideways by virtue of its vocal wallop or winning tunefulness. Singer-songwriter Trixie Whitley has powerful pipes, but her first full-length release is as nuanced as it is soulful, distinguished by her dusky contralto and a series of richly atmospheric songs that tap into roiling emotions.
Some of Whitley’s lyrics evoke wrenching heartache, others a spiritual yearning, and more often than not, the album’s haunting arrangements point to her formative ties to renowned producer Daniel Lanois. Of course, being the daughter of the late singer-songwriter Chris Whitley and having spent her life surrounded by artists on both sides of the Atlantic, the 25-year-old tunesmith has never wanted for inspiration.
“Fourth Corner” underscores strong affinities -- mostly Southern blues, soul and gospel -- while revealing Whitley’s gift for writing songs that have a timeless quality even when the music has a contemporary slant. Her earthy vocals project determination and vulnerability by turns, and with the help of co-producer Thomas Bartlett, she has crafted densely layered tracks designed to get under your skin. Playing acoustic and electric guitars, Whitley adds to the album’s resonating textures, beginning with the passionate ballads “Irene” and “Never Enough.”
“Fourth Corner” has its flaws, especially with songs that don’t rival the album’s highlights. But it’s easy to overlook the occasional miscue. After all, debut albums seldom suggest such a bright future.