It’s understandable to want more from Trixie Whitley than what she delivers on her solo “Fourth Corner.” Not because of any shortcomings, but because of obvious strengths that go under-exploited.
A few years ago, Whitley, the now-25-year-old Belgium-born daughter of late American singer-songwriter Chris Whitley, was picked by producer Daniel Lanois to be the lead vocalist for his project Black Dub. And rightly so: She has a preternatural spirit in her voice that sometimes rivals the soulfulness of Adele, the ferocity of Polly Jean Harvey and the mystique of Lana Del Rey. And if the production of “Fourth Corner” had been more customary, she might be well on her way to elevating her profile to at least the level of the latter two.
But as it is, “Fourth Corner” is more of a musician’s album than a general music fan’s album. The pace often feels about a half step too slow for the mainstream as the instrumentation builds a languid, albeit sophisticated, atmosphere and Whitley saunters in and out of the vocal spotlight, shifting around in bluesy, jazzy, rootsy contexts. She sounds tangibly moved in the soft, electric reverberations of “Pieces” (“I’m breaking into pieces every time I go”), balled-up in the organic/electric smolder of “Irene” and plaintively expressive of her primal needs in the crackling fester of “Need Your Love.”
It’s exciting stuff, but too often a tease of what could have been — like the alluring melody in the title track that is plainly underplayed.
Perhaps it would be demeaning to shoehorn Whitley into a series of rote verse-chorus-verse songs, blatantly positioning her as an Adele wannabe when that’s not her natural disposition. Yet the line between artistic restraint and naive holding back is a blurry one, and a few sleepy arrangements plus some excursions into spoken-word territory make a good case for more conventional production.
Still, Whitely is going to develop at her own pace, and “Fourth Corner” sparks interest in where she might go.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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