It’s that time of year!
That’s what I had for Fourth Corner, the first full length release under Trixie Whitley’s name. And it’s what I still have for Trixie herself. I just wish I could say this release wasn’t a tad disappointing to me but, alas, it is.
If we used the Keith Richards model (ie: as long as you start and finish at the same time you’re good) for the album itself, Fourth Corner would be selling hundreds of thousands of copies a week and Trixie’d be on the cover of Rolling Stone with the headline, “The New Diva of Soul!” or something as inane. The album starts out incredibly strong with “Irene,” a Tom Waits-ian clank and drang that utilizes Whitley’s powerful, and emotive, voice to its full extent. A declaration of independence and heartache, it’s moving, forceful and everything I hoped for with this release.
And then “Never Enough,” with just enough funk and Whitley holding back on her vocals to keep me listening and interested. You can hear the instrumentation, it’s feeding and accenting her voice and propelling you along.
And then, a kind of slow creeping disappointment.
Upon listening to “Pieces” I realize both that, Whitley’s song writing is mature way beyond her 25 years and her incredible voice seems to be wielded like a sword to fend off any doubts people may have about her vocal abilities. Like so many of her generation’s singers her vocal style borders on gymnastics of the “look at me” sort more than “the spirit is in me” kind. It’s like the difference between Atlantic Aretha and Arista Aretha. Unrestrained-joy versus here-comes-the-vocal-kitchen-sink.
As each song passes by I alternately think “this is incredible” and “this is too much.” As sparse and dreamy as the arrangements are, and as beautiful as the sheer tone of her voice is, I find myself longing for subtlety. I get tired of climbing the stairs with her voice only to run back down to the cellar for a low note that rattles the foundations. The production is clean & reverb drenched, the instruments well placed & surprising and listening on headphones is a pleasure, but you can’t cure “young vocalist’s disease” after it has taken hold. And it seems like she’s caught it.
You take a song like “Breath You In My Dreams,” which starts out with a hush and quickly turns into a vocal display both impressive and unnecessary. I long for her to whisper in my ear throughout, to tell me of her disappointment in me. Instead she begins to shout and the message doesn’t get through. Sometimes it’s not what you sing, but how you sing it.
Let me put it another way, I really like these songs. I think “Gradual Return” is remarkable. But I can’t put Fourth Corner on and listen to it track after track… song after song. No matter how good it sounds coming through my speakers. No matter how good the playing. No matter how remarkable her voice. I just can’t. I find it frustrating. I want to like the entire collection as much as I like the songs individually. The over production of her vocals and singing AND the producer’s unwillingness to say “let’s rein it in a bit” won’t allow me to click the repeat arrow.
I took it on a road test and drove around in my car for two hours hoping it would grab my heart, and I ended up listening to Muswell Hillbillies on the trip home.
“Moriela” is starkly beautiful and draws you in, in a way you wish the rest of Fourth Corner would, but it seems a little late by the time it rolls around. And then the finale “Oh, The Joy” and you think “what could have been” and hear the unwavering promise that Whitley brings to the table. She’s ended with a clear winner and, like in Keith’s model, we’ve all arrived at the same time.
I guess I’m saying there’s much to like about Fourth Corner, and I do like it, I’m just not in love with it. It feels like I’m saying, “It’s not you, it’s me, I’m a jerk” and waiting for the expectant sigh or punch in the jaw. And, in a way, I guess I am.
Trixie Whitley is an artist to watch. And you should buy this with your hard earned cash money because once you’re turned on to her you’ll know where I’m coming from. You will want her to make more music. You’ll see there’s an awful lot to be hopeful about. You’ll have high hopes too.
Mine will just have to wait patiently for the next record.
Kevin Poore is a writer, director and musician permanently rooted in Southern California. He hosts the long running music show “Nights At The Sound Table,” is currently filming a documentary “Long Playing” and has actually been in the presence of, and reached out and touched, Jimi Hendrix’s personal record collection. He was high for days. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.