Review Summary: Connecting to your formative sounds with just a guitar in a barn
Dirt Floor was recorded in a day at Whitley's father's barn, with a ribbon mic and a two track. It's a spare 27 minutes of slide guitar or banjo, foot stomps and a lone voice.
If this sounds basic, then be assured that these are the only elements required. A yearning runs through all the songs - to escape restrictive bonds, to get some momentum, to be sure. He's searching for his love of music again.
At this point, Chris had a stalled career after being dropped by his label. He had been unable to replicate the modest success of his debut with his previous two records - the sonically expansive 'Din of ecstasy', and the more radio tuned 'Terra Incognita'. Here he returns to the primal well of his influences, maybe even fragments of things he heard as child, and reconstitutes them into his own sound. He stops time.
You could maybe pigeonhole it as delta blues, or country, or even folk. But I think these are just perfect songs. The lyrics are plain, although in places equivocal. The delivery is measured, but there's a wildness there too, that's been subdued by hurt and compromise. It's honest, possibly the most pure recording in a career that ended too soon. There's so much space, but his voice finds all the corners of it.
Standouts would be 'The Wild Country', with its ticking rhythm, all winding slides and strong picked passages in an open tuning that was Whitley's signature style. The song is a mission statement, possibly even a nod to his time on major label, with lyrics like "there's compromises I can't comprehend", and "returning to the wild where I'm from". The other highlight would be 'Accordingly', an absolutely classic song that nevertheless also sums up the uncertainty of modern love with its cryptic, surreal lyrics.
There's something about this that evokes the less complicated parts of your life - not in a nostalgic way, but rather the essence of them. Like waking up in winter, and being still to hear the sound of the rain and feel the surrounding soft darkness. Or sitting in a hut and watching sawdust slowly float in a beam of sunlight coming through the gaps in the wood. You'll get moving in a minute; it's just nice to slow down, take notice, take stock. You're just remembering what it felt like to be at peace, and to connect with the elemental.