by Jesse Popeski
“There was a wicked messenger, from Eli he did come/ With a mind that multiplied the smallest matter,” sang Bob Dylan on his mysterious, biblical album John Wesley Harding.
Whitney K’s Hard To Be A God confronts the influence of his idols Lou Reed, Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan, whose corpses are strewn across the album cover. “In a past life/ I was a wicked messenger,” retorts Whitney, perched in the background, taking notes that delight in multiplying the smallest matters on the opening song “While Digging Through the Snow.”
Whitney’s influences are direct and compartmentalized. When he intones in mostly unrhymed prose, he channels Lou Reed, who also inspires the music: the tumbling rhythms, droning chords and repeated bending guitar figure of “Not Unlike a Rock” resemble a restrained Velvet Underground. When Whitney sings, his voice carries a hint of country drawl like Kristofferson, especially as he weaves country tropes into his ramblings: “Head upon the dashboard, feet under the wheel/ Well I didn’t see her coming blue eyes, and shining steel/ And the paper said it was an accident” he sings in “Two Strangers.”
“They sent for the ambulance/ And one was sent/ Somebody got lucky/ But it was an accident,” Dylan croons over a trudging blues on Blonde on Blonde. Perhaps it’s an accident that so many of Whitney’s lines engage so directly with Dylan, a coincidental collision of influence and creativity as Whitney forges his own path as a songwriter.
If Whitney hadn’t put his idols on the cover – and had made a longer album – it wouldn’t feel like confronting his influences was the main theme of this mini-album. Putting that theme aside, the songs stand on their own, from surprising humor in the lyrics (“you looked like Khruschev addressing the committee”) to the variety of musical influences. From the chamber music of the opener and closer to the cinematic Appalachian theme of the title track, the music always fits perfectly with each clever turn of phrase.