Wednesday, September 1, 2010

1991: Big Sky Country

Chris Whitley: Big Sky Country


We’ve heard from some of my fellow Star Makers that 1991 was a distracting year. Me, all I was doing was getting married. So I didn’t have time to watch videos on MTV all day, and find new music that way. MTV was moving away from music anyway, and they were also starting to feature music I didn’t like. I also had less time to read music magazines. So how was I to find music? In the first part of the year, what I did have was a lot of time in the car with my fiance. And after we got married, we still spent a lot of time in the car. We live close enough to Philadelphia to hear their radio stations, so we listened to a lot of WXPN from the University of Pennsylvania. Maybe you’ve heard of the station, because of a program that is now nationally syndicated: The World Café with David Dye. 1991 was the year that the World Café first went on the air.

It was on WXPN that I first heard Big Sky Country. There was no heavy beat, the synthesizers were subdued and joined by “real instruments”, the singer sounded like a human being rather than a processed electronic something… In short, the 80s were over, musically. Now I enjoyed much of the music of the 80s, but I was ready for something new. Big Sky Country had passion without screaming vocals or guitars. There was subtlety, and there was an instrument I had never heard before, the resonator guitar. This was my something new.

Chris Whitley was a late bloomer. In 1991, he was my age, 31. And this was his debut. In my married life, I have found it harder to keep track of an artist’s career than it used to be. So I lost track of Chris Whitley, and, in fact, I got this album long after the fact. In researching this post, I found out why I haven’t heard anything about Whitley recently. Lung cancer took him in 2005, at age 45. I hope his music does not get forgotten.

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