Love Letter To A Record: PJ Harding On Chris Whitley’s ‘Dirt Floor’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become. 

In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

PJ Harding – Chris Whitley, Dirt Floor(1998)

I always hated getting asked what my favourite album was. “Why do I need a favourite? Ranking the music I love seems like a pointless and demeaning exercise,” I would say. And don’t get me wrong, it absolutely is, but… I don’t know, now I just feel like it’s fun to have a favourite album. So I do.

Dirt Floor by Chris Whitley is my favourite album. I first heard it as a teenager a year or so after its release, and it’s an album I’ve returned to year after year since then. It’s such a pure record. It’s Chris, in a shed, playing guitar and singing into a single ribbon microphone going into a two-track tape machine. You feel like you’re right there in front of him and it’s maybe that directness that’s kept it feeling so relevant and timeless all these years later. The songs are stunning and Chris was just a sublime singer and guitar player.

I got to see Chris play on his last trip to Australia before he died. It was at a tiny club in Sydney in front of a small crowd, some of whom seemed to be there more for the cocktails. He seemed a little frustrated and almost apologetic on stage. I suspect, by the way he bolted out of the club after his set, that he was mostly just desperate to smoke a cigarette. But as distracted and bothered as he was, he was still other-worldly good. It felt something like I imagine it would have felt like sitting in that shed. I was completely enthralled. When he died a few years later I was gutted, but so grateful for the music he left behind. Especially for Dirt Floor, my favourite album.

PJ Harding is an Australian songwriter and producer. Recently he’s teamed up with singer Noah Cyrus on a collaborative debut EP PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE, out now.

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