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Don’t be fooled by the sparse packaging and production of Chris Whitley’s new Dirt Floor: Sure, the 9-song, 27-minute solo acoustic project was recorded in a single day on an old two-track in his pop’s Vermont barn, but with such little room to work, the singer-songwriter (not to mention excellent slide man) packed more emotion and atmosphere into this dusty, bare effort than most musicians manage over entire careers. With just his voice (think Adam Duritz without the phony histrionics), a National Steel guitar, the occasional banjo, and an ever-present foot stomp, Houston native Whitley conjures the introspective mood of a jilted lover gazing out the window and wondering what the fuck went wrong. Dirt Floor, Whitley’s third full album, unveils the nine steps of heartache beautifully, from anger to longing to jealousy and so on. If the painfully sweet “Accordingly” is a contemplative take on the relationship’s sugary beginnings (when it seemed to Whitley that everyone in the world—musician and his beloved included—was blissfully unaware), then “Wild Country” is a self-administered shot in the arm about how good it feels to be a solitary man alone with his thoughts. But, as most of us know, good moods are fleeting after a breakup, and by the time some truly ominous picking signals the start of “Ball Peen Hammer,” a pissed-off offering about the suffocating influences of everyone in the world—musician and his beloved included—you wonder if some sort of catharsis or relief is possible. To reveal the details of the album’s final track, “Loco Girl,” would spoil the album’s wonderful finish, but I will allow this simple advice: Dirt Floor is a helluva rewarding way to spend a half-hour.

—Sean Daly