Trixie Whitley was a raw bundle of nerves, and she had at least two good reasons for it.
“This is my first show in a while,” the singer-guitarist said Thursday night at the Hotel Cafe. “I had a baby 3 ½ months ago.”
She wasn't exactly easing back into action. Whitley, 27, is the daughter of the late Texas bluesman Chris Whitley, who established a reputation as a restless innovator before he died in 2005; she’s also worked with the producer Daniel Lanois in his experimental roots-rock group Black Dub. In 2013, Whitley released her debut solo album, “Fourth Corner,” a dark, brooding effort defined by her jagged guitar playing and her big, scratchy vocals.
Yet rather than rely on music her audience might know, Whitley, performing by herself, mostly focused on new material Thursday, including a striking, complicated tune she said she’d written near the end of her pregnancy. The lyrics, with their description of “a love for you like no other,” seemed to celebrate the emotional expansion that having a child can trigger. But Whitley’s voice was less reassuring: Leaping without warning from a low murmur to an unrestrained howl, her singing invoked the fear and anxiety built into parenthood -- the sudden realization of how much is beyond your control.
Other songs pondered romance gone bad, as in “New Frontiers,” for which she switched from guitar to piano, working over a skeletal chord progression as she proclaimed, “Our love is tainted.” One selection she didn’t name had Whitley stomping her foot to create a primitive beat; the words mentioned “a bullet for love.”
The singer kept her eyes closed for much of her 45-minute set, the result perhaps of the concentration required after what she said had been about five months away from the stage. In addition to having a baby, she said with a small laugh, she’d recently been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Yet a sense of stillness wasn’t beyond her. As an exercise to deal with the ADHD, she said, she’d tried to write the slowest song she could, and here the stately piano ballad seemed to bring the room into orbit around it. “I just want to be with those who know secrets,” she sang, an uncommonly vivid way to express a need for quiet.
To end the concert Whitley did a string of tunes from “Fourth Corner,” beginning with “Hotel No Name,” a brutal blues with slashing guitar, then “Morelia,” a gentler number that featured some of her prettiest singing.
When she told the crowd she was closing with her song “Breathe You in My Dreams,” a fan called out for one more after that. She didn’t have time, Whitley replied -- the next act was due onstage at 10:30 sharp.
“Who cares?” the guy shot back, which Whitley took up as a different kind of question.
“I care too much,” she said. “It’s kind of a continuous problem.”