Audio Mixer: Chris Steffen.
Photographer: Anton Coene.
Recording Porta Bohemica proved to be a crucible for singer and songwriter Trixie Whitley. Following the critical success of 2013's Fourth Corner, she cut an album during breaks from almost incessant touring only to find she was dissatisfied. She started over. She enlisted co-producers and instrumentalists Gus Seyffert and Joey Waronker on some tracks. Others were self-produced and feature Whitley on guitar and piano, and include musical contributions from friends including Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), Rob Moose, Ray Rizzo, Daryl Johnson, and more. Fourth Corner showcased Whitley as an already accomplished singer equally adept at soul, pop, rhythm & blues, rock, and more. This album adds depth to that voice. The open-tuned, warm, rounded guitar sound she offers on "Faint Mystery" combines her late father's (Chris Whitley) use of early Delta gospel blues with an obvious love of Lisa Gerard and Elizabeth Fraser. Bartlett's synth adds simulated droning horns to get underneath the vocal, and she goes deep to bring all the emotion in the song to the front. "Salt" contains a wall of sweet yet moody indie dance-pop production. The juxtaposition of Whitley's powerhouse "hot" singing seems jarring at first, but as her poignant lyrics come forth it all makes sense. On "Closer" she stacks retro R&B on top of elegiac modern pop. The bluesy waltz "Eliza's Smile" uses stinging guitars (courtesy of Sam Cohen), dirgy pianos, shuffling drums, and swirling French horns to build a platform. Whitley strategically travels through her entire vocal range and opens her words up like a razor opens an artery. "Soft Spoken Words" uses an icy primitive drum machine with a warm bluesy guitar. Her voice glides the lyrics along a tightrope of gothic eeriness and Eastern modal singing. "Witness" is a reckless, passionate guitar rocker that ends just before it derails. "The Visitor" is a stark juxtaposition of soul and blues; it recalls the influence of Nina Simone. Whitley's piano is her only accompaniment. She plays it solely in the lower middle register. Her phrasing is as tense as her playing is loose and makes for a striking closer. Porta Bohemica is named for a train station that once connected Germany and Austria. Whitley's music is rooted in the past. That said, she reveals just how much its traces reside in the present. This fine album displays that proudly; it is delivered by an artist who knows what she wants from a song, how to get it, and how to get it across. ~ Thom Jurek