Wednesday, February 28, 2007

top50 - #2

2. william elliott whitmore - 'song of the blackbird'

or from:

My excitement about this record was probably very noticeable back then when I talked about its predecessor 'Ashes To Dust' and urged everyone to keep an eye out for this one. See, I had reasons. What I think and feel about Will and his music is already quite apparent in that review, so I can spare you all the redundant praise and step straight into 'Song Of The Blackbird'.

If you have heard Will before (and if you haven't, by god, fix that pronto) you won't be too shocked by the beginning of the record, with his by-now familiar banjo strum introducing 'Dry'. However, as the song progresses, and later the album itself, some slight changes are apparent, namely the melodic richness of the vocals. Will has never been monochordic, but some of the songs here showing a range that's much wider than before.

(photo by Curtis Lehmkuhl)

One of the things I like to do with Will's songs is show them to people who have never heard of him, and then ask them to describe how they think will looks like. His deep, gravely, weary voice is hugely misleading - I have had many answers but none of them are remotely close to what he does look like. On an interview at the Southern Records website, William talks about his appreciation for Minor Threat or Public Enemy, and this is one of the things that sets him apart from the rest. Even though the songs on 'Song Of The Blackbird', like the ones on the two records before, are deeply imbued with the traditional spirit of the South, and still as stripped-down as before (voice, banjo, occasional percussion, and that's it), some almost-pop hooks (pop in the context of Will's songs, do not get me wrong here) are apparent now and then, which makes the record a curious meeting of traditional past and exciting present.

Will's storytelling abilities have also been improving impressively. His music has often compared to Johnny Cash for little reason other than journalistic laziness, but storytelling is the only real area where the two are really very comparable. Like Cash, Whitmore can write seemingly individual, character-based stories that can resonate deeply within anyone, regardless of the reader/listener ever having anything to do with railroad workers, inmates (Cash only, this one) or farmers, to name but a few members of both men's favoured cast. Stories become universal because their basic themes are universal.

At first glance, Will's songs seem to be centred around death, but they're not. Death is a backdrop, it is indeed very present but merely as a factor of life, and that is what is really celebrated here. It's not the weakness of the demise that is valued, it's the strength of the resistance to it, usually through love. The best example of will's outlook on life that he expresses through his songs is 'Take It On The Chin', where he proudly sings: he said life is a gamble and before you throw them dice, if it's more than you can handle please take this advice. He said stand your ground and don't back down, that's the only way to win. and when life throws a punch, son, you've got to take it on the chin.

With the possible exception of the forthcoming number one on my 2006 top list, William Elliott Whitmore is hands-down the best singer/songwriter in activity today.

song of the day:
'Take It On The Chin'


  1. sounds like a breath of fresh air

  2. Exactly, Ray!

    I think he has such an universal appeal to fans of every genre, and there's no one that sounds like him right now...

  3. I really really liked Will Elliot, but I didn't find anything from him to download so I only got to listen the song you put here so if you have any more to send that would be awesome!
    I really liked his voice.

  4. estou impressionada!
    tenho que vir cá mais vezes. para chá e torradas? :)

  5. octobrea11:37 am

    I've tried to download 3 songs from your best of '07 and they keep getting stuck in the download process. meh.

  6. That's weird, it's been working okay for my other visitors. Tell me which songs you want and I can send them to you!