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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Chris Whitley: Upbeat and in Your Face at Dragonfly

Anyone coming to Chris Whitley’s show at the Dragonfly on Tuesday hoping to hear the atmospheric blues-rock of the New Yorker’s 1991 debut album was in for a shock. For his upcoming second album, “Din of Ecstasy,” Whitley has traded in that sound for a more in-your-face array of riffs and ragas.

On the first of his five nights at the tiny Hollywood club, Whitley made it seem like a pretty good trade. While the first album had a compellingly haunting quality, accented by Whitley’s deft work on his National steel guitar, the new material breaks that mold with inventive vigor--an ecstatic din indeed.

He still played that resonant National some of the time, but he had it highly amplified as he milked it for every bit of richness he could. With his tight rhythm team of bassist Alan Gavaert and drummer Rich Mercurio providing a solid foundation, Whitley performed with a shy intensity, playing a game of free-flight tag between his elastic vocals and fluid, fuzz-boxed guitar lines in a manner closer to the Hendrix-Cream-Zeppelin axis than to Robert Johnson.

Whitley’s lyrics follow a similar path, using colorful imagery and structure in a complex package. The overall impression Tuesday was that Whitley, like Jeff Buckley, is a distinctive talent capable of unpredictable twists and leaps--and worth following through every turn.

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* Whitley appears through Saturday at the Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., 8 p.m. $7. (213) 466-6111.


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