Monday, July 24, 2006

sing your sorrows

william elliott whitmore - 'ashes to dust'

released: february 22, 2005
running time: 31'39"
regain records

songs: 1. midnight 2. the day the end finally came 3. when push comes to love 4. diggin' my grave 5. the buzzards won't cry 6. sorest of eyes 7. lift my jug (song for hub cale) 8. gravel road 9. porchlight

When you're up to your neck in shit, the only thing left to do is sing - this Samuel Beckett quotation is the only verbal cue you get from the black booklet, but it could not have been more accurate. William Elliott Whitmore's tales of death, love, loss and woe feature protagonists who really have got nothing left but to sing.

Whitmore's gravely voice, a sort of cross between Tom Waits and the oldest, coarsest country singers you can think of, cuts right through to the heart of rural America again with his second album. His style hasn't changed much since 'Hymns For The Hopeless', which is a good thing, for William is a rather unique musical presence and his simple, banjo-strumming approach to songwriting is perfect to the aura that his records carry. It's hard to think of another musician this stripped of any frills, going straight to the (broken) heart of the matter, and it's also hard to listen to this without conjuring the image of the mourning man sitting on his porch at sundown with a guitar and an old dog as his only companions. Will is only 27, but he sounds like he's coming from 100 years ago, yet none of these songs sound like a mere rehashing of popular music.

Among all the sadness, there's even a bit of Mississippi blues with 'Lift My Jug (Song For Hub Cale)' to undarken (lighten would be way too much, and besides, the lyrics of this song are as sad as the rest) the way halfway through, as well as a lovely waltz with 'Sorest Of Eyes'. Still on songs, allow me to say that if you don't feel anything the first time you listen to closer 'Porchlight', then you probably don't feel much else. Besides neatly summing up the essence of Will's songs, it's one of those that wrap themselves around your heart and just won't let go. At the same time a lament but also (and essentially) a thank you for the good things at the end of a difficult life, it contains the whole life-work-love-death cycle that I like to think defines humanity in the best way. It has made me cry several times already, I am sufficiently shamed to admit. To add to its emotional weight (as if any more was needed), the song is apparently the story of William's own father, whose last request was precisely the one made in the song.

My last request in this review would be that you don't miss this record, the previous one, and also keep an eye out for the soon to be released third one, 'Song Of The Blackbird'.

the good: profoundly human - the major issues of death and love are simply sung, stripped of every pretence
the bad: no major changes in style throughout the record

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