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William Elliott Whitmore

Kilonova – 2018 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by William Elliott Whitmore

Iowa native William Elliott Whitmore grew up on a fourth generation family farm where he still lives with his wife and children, which should give some indication as to the rooted nature of his folky/rootsy songwriting sensibilities. His three albums for Southern Records were essentially a trilogy that dealt with his grief at the clustered deaths of his parents and grandparents and his internal struggle to process their losses. The attention those albums garnered earned him a contract with major indie Anti- Records, and three more albums of darkly hopeful folk songs powered by Whitmore's sonorous baritone and his melancholy fingerpicked acoustic guitar blended with gutsy electric band arrangements.

For "Kilonova," his debut album with Bloodshot, Whitmore has chosen to step away from his role as songwriter in favor of translating the work of other writers in his own inimitable fashion. Most are songs that Whitmore has performed live over the years, and a few are great, but not particularly surprising, given Whitmore's catalog. The set is led by his muscular and rousing band cover of Harlan Howard's "Busted," a hit for Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, and the pure folk/country disaster ode "Five Feet High and Rising."

More intriguing are unexpected choices like Bad Religion's "Don't Pray on Me," the punk band's jaundiced look at, well, religion, done in classic Woody Guthrie style, and the quiet acoustic gospel spin on Z.Z. Top's "Hot, Blue and Righteous."

The range of Whitmore's choices on "Kilonova" is evidenced by his gravelly take on "Ain't No Sunshine," which stands in stark contrast to Bill Withers' smoothly confident original, and the electric roots growl of his convincing version of Captain Beefheart's "Bat Chain Puller," a song that on the surface seems incongruous, but, even as he approximates Jeff Moris Tepper's angular guitar work, it ultimately reveals itself to be completely in Whitmore's wheelhouse ("It whistles like a root snatched from dry earth/Sodbusting rakes with gray dust claws announces its coming into morning"). "Kilonova" is obviously a whistle stop on the way to Whitmore's next album of original material, but it's an engaging and fascinating side rail.