Thursday, January 30, 2014

Other Music You Should Be Listening To - William Elliott Whitmore Edition

Other Music You Should Be Listening To is an ongoing series wherein I identify bands and musicians whose work I enjoy. Many of you already know about this music and will either revel in our shared opinions or post comments about just how wrong I am. Either way, it should be fun.  If you don't already know about this music rest assured it is worth your time to check it out.

You want to know what is incredible? Seeing one man with a banjo and a boot captivate 1,000 or more people, that is incredible. New Years Eve 2006. It was my first time seeing Clutch live, and they put on one hell of a show. They were not, however, the most impactful act I saw that night.
William Elliott Whitmore is a guy a couple of years older than me, from the middle of nowhere, Iowa, and he happens to have put out some of the best records that have been produced during my lifetime. On top of that, he is a beacon of truth in our mixed up world and a truly nice guy. He opened the show that December night, and I have been a huge fan ever since.

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Like the majority of the artists I feature in this series, Will Whitmore made his way in the music business on the punk rock, diy, tour your ass off path. For a number of years he burnt up the highways playing show after show. He hasn't been out much, though, since touring to support his last record, Field Songs, which came out in 2011. Thankfully, he has been in the studio working on a new record.

Will Whitmore stands on a different level because his music is unquestionably sincere, his writing is superb, and he has an amazing voice. I have played his music for the uninitiated many times only to have them ask how in the heck I found out about some octogenarian black man putting out records. Hearing him, it's hard to believe at first that you are listening to a white guy currently in his thirties who's covered in tattoos and loves independent hip hop. Once you find out that he lives on his family farm in Iowa where he built his own home, though, you begin to realize that the soul in his voice is absolutely real.

His discography begins with three releases on Southern Records. This trilogy, Hymns for the Hopeless (2003), Ashes to Dust (2005), and Song of the Blackbird (2006), are all fairly similar in that they are stark, minimally produced records that rely on songwriting and charisma to convey Whitmore's message. It becomes clear very quickly that he is a man interested in living a simple life while struggling with the realities of mortality, salvation, and damnation. If, for a single second, his words are an affectation, it does not show. The music is simple, and the language is not complex, but the songs are so real you can feel it in your bones. His music will move you when you hear, and even more so when you see him perform live. As I said before, I've seen the man completely captivate a packed club full of metalheads with nothing but a banjo or an acoustic guitar and a foot for stomping out time.

In 2009 Animals in the Dark came out on Anti- Records. There was a bit more production on the record, but not so much as to make anyone think W.E.W. had abandoned his musical roots. Thematically, some of the album was a reflection on Whitmore's dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and the continual loss of personal liberty and freedom in our society that so many people either refuse to see or just ignore. Some of it dealt with familiar themes of loss and resurrection on a personal level. It is definitely a different record than the previous three, but it's a bit hard to describe just how. Again, though, the songwriting was absolutely on point. Watch the video and try to tell me he doesn't mean every word.


2011 brought Field Songs, again on Anti- Records. It was a return to an extremely stark style of recording, and the songwriting was once again phenomenal. Throughout the record you can hear the sounds of Whitmore's Iowa home running in the background, and the themes of honest work and a simple life of resilient honesty ring forever true.

I've had the opportunity to chat with Will a few times, and he truly is a humble and nice guy. I am looking forward to his new record and even more so to catching him live again as soon as I can. This man, who might be the best songwriter working today, posted a journal entry about getting chains for his tractor so as not to get stuck in the snow when plowing his driveway the other day. Something about that just makes me feel like everything in life would be much better if we would all just live the life we were designed to live. Do yourself a favor and head over to his website as soon as you can, and never miss the chance to see him perform.




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