Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reviews:: William Elliott Whitmore Animals in the Dark

web site || label

For his last three records, William Elliott Whitmore (and even his lovely collaboration with Jenny Hoysten) has been able to take the listener on a dark journey deep into his soul, using his gravelly voice, trusted banjo and little else. He’s a man who can sit in front of a crowd on thousands, most of who’ve never heard him sing, and make the venue turn pin drop quiet. He’s the same man who is usually fed shots of whiskey from hard earned fans, and doesn’t try to hide his smiles or slurs as the set progresses. He’s an artist’s artist, one who constantly fills opening slots for bigger named musicians who count themselves as fans (*).

He’s also one of my favorite singers.

On February 17th, Whitmore is releasing his first record – Animals in the Dark - on Anti records, and the changes are shocking. On the surface, you can't help but notice the banjo makes only a few appearances, but more importantly, Whitmore seems more mature. He experiments with sounds and instrumentation and instead of coming off like a farmer from Lee County, Whitmore transforms himself into a true folk singer, tackling the issues that are dragging us down and tries to inspire the masses. He sings of hope, and while someone else may have already forced the world to remember that word still exists, it’s a refreshing change and not one to take lightly.

I realize this new style might alienate some of Whitmore’s core fan base, but it's one that really exposes a new side to his songwriting. The opening number, Mutiny shows Whitmore venturing into the political as he questions the leadership – maybe not so much just the President of his country, but leadership in general – with only a natural cadence and a marching band drum driving the song. Those political themes continue on the first single – the full band driven, bar room ready Old Devils - as he pleads for a change to the back office meetings that control our world.

But it’s the album’s second track, Who Stole the Soul where Whitmore really starts to impress. Showcasing a softer side, William sings not with the anger and rage of youth, but with the frustration of experience and a longing for a change that always seems to be just ahead on the horizon. He uses some heavy strums of an acoustic, but it’s the beautiful strings that complete the mood. Even as he jumps into the live favorite Johnny Law, you can tell Whitmore has grown. The first time I heard the song, he commented on how angry he was at the cops for punching his female friend in the face, and the song was fast and the anger was palpable. Now, he’s taken a deep breath, and the track is more a commentary than a call for action.

Even when Whitmore sings for his friends and the county he once called home and now hardly ever sees (like he does on Hell or High Water), his words and the subtle guitar come across more like a weary road warrior looking forward to the comforts of home instead of longing for another whiskey soaked night. He’s happy for what he has and those he’s met, refusing to let the state of the world darken his visions of love and hope. He travels too much ( Lifetime Underground) and takes too much pride and enjoyment from his life to let someone else decide how he lives. As he finishes the record, with the scenic beauty and tranquility of A Good Day to Die, you can’t help but think about the good things you have instead of the shit that is hurled at us with a plummeting economy and a society that thrives on war and strife.

As unlikely a folk poet as you’d imagine, Whitmore has made a record that should push his work to the ears of a much bigger audience and really inspire the listener. So as he says, "smoke em if you got em and drink your glasses to the bottom" and in a time where we need every ounce of hope we can get, embrace what you have and take a long listen to Animals in the Dark.

* When he played Vancouver, Ben Nichols of Lucero stood alone in front of the stage supporting William's set.

Labels: ,

Posted at 9:15 AM by ack :: 0 comments

add to facebook add to del.icio.us Digg this Googlize this post add to Yahoo

Post a Comment