Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Keith Whitley

  • I Wonder Do You Think of Me [RCA Victor, 1989] A-
  • Greatest Hits [RCA, 1990] B+
  • Kentucky Bluebird [RCA, 1991] **
  • Wherever You Are Tonight [BNA, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • The Essential Keith Whitley [BNA, 1996] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

I Wonder Do You Think of Me [RCA Victor, 1989]
Already 33, Whitley was just finding himself professionally when he died of acute alcohol poisoning while completing his fourth album last April, and where the hell he was hiding his voice beats me. Supple, resonant, deeply relaxed, he cuts Travis, Anderson, and Haggard physically, and productionwise he's harder than any of them, ranging easily across all the purist subgenres except the bluegrass that gave him his start. With songs to match from the likes of Curly Putnam, Sanger Shafer, Bill Rice, this could have been 1989's Old 8 X 10, with stringencies of formula serving only to keep the music on course. Instead it'll probably inspire another stupid suicide legend. A-

Greatest Hits [RCA, 1990]
His best came last, and only those who already love the ingrained sorrow and liquored-up ease of I Wonder Do You Think of Me, which provides the four finest performances on this record, should invest in the glimmers it compiles: the way his brave front breaks through such Nashville formula as the cute longing of "Miami, My Amy," the lust at first sight of "Ten Feet Away," the terse lovewords of "When You Say Nothing at All." And in "Tell Lorrie I Love Her," recorded in his living room two years before he died, a voice from beyond the grave tells us he could have sung his best any time the smart boys were ready to package him that way. B+

Kentucky Bluebird [RCA, 1991]
postproduced (which is good) outtakes (which isn't) ("Backbone Job," "I Never Go Around Mirrors") **

Wherever You Are Tonight [BNA, 1995]
"Light at the End of the Tunnel" Choice Cuts

The Essential Keith Whitley [BNA, 1996]
"Don't Our Love Look Natural" Choice Cuts