William Elliott Whitmore - Field Songs (Anti-)

Only getting better with age...

Released Jul 29th, 2011 via Anti- / By Matthew Bayfield
William Elliott Whitmore - Field Songs (Anti-) For the uninitiated the music contained on Field Songs, the new record from Iowa born bluegrass/folk musician William Elliott Whitmore may come as something of a curveball. Sparse in instrumentation, frequently laced with lyrics of struggle & despair and delivered with the cracked, rusted baritone of a world weary gospel singer, it would be fair to say it is not the expectant sound of a man yet to reach his mid thirties and who cut his teeth as both roadie and opening act for hardcore punk outfit Ten Grand. For those who are familiar with Whitmore's work however, this record should fit perfectly alongside his former works whilst feeling like something akin to pouring a stiff whiskey after spending far too many hours with their nose to the proverbial grindstone.

Clocking in at a lean eight tracks over a total runtime of 34 minutes, Whitmore's newest clutch of songs could almost be called an EP by comparison to many of the overstuffed, overcrowded track listings of many a modern album. Thankfully, Whitmore does not in any way seem concerned with cutting a modern album. As seasoned veterans such as Bob Dylan have shown us in years gone by (for example with his sublime Nashville Skyline record, which had 10 tracks running at just under 28 minutes long) why labour a point for an hour when you are insightful enough to put it across in a single line? Focusing on songs of struggle, working the land and of the beauty of the land itself, this record is far more in tune with the albums of the bygone era of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger & Ramblin' Jack Elliot than anything you'll find currently doing the rounds in the world of folk music.

Whitmore's last album Animals In The Dark, was a step away from the more personal, frequently tragedy themed tracks of his first three albums, carrying a healthy body of politically charged songs alongside a keen spirit of rage and rebellion. With the release of his fifth album, although no less vocal with his personal opinion, Whitmore has found a sense of light & hopefulness that was largely absent in the tone of AITD. From the titles of tracks such as 'Bury Your Burdens In The Ground' and 'We'll Carry On' to the rousing barroom stomp of 'Don't Need It'; a song focusing on all the perceived negatives a man may choose to carry but can ultimately relieve himself of through the pursuit of hard work and personal achievement, the album functions like the lyrical yin to Animals... weighted yang. Indeed with a combined running time a little over an hour the pair serve as perfect sonic and philosophical partners when heard in sucession.

Musically the album treads the well beaten ground Whitmore has followed since his first album, 2003's Hymns For The Hopeless. Minimalist instrumentation, frequently a single finger picked banjo or strummed guitar, leave the listeners attention free to focus on the finely crafted lyrics and a voice which sounds very much like it is not of this earth. Indeed, much like the whiskey'd growl of fellow Anti signing Tom Waits, Whitmore's rumbling, almost preachers voice is the perfect vehicle for songs that focus on life, its troubles and the tools a man needs to survive it, and only seems to be getting more emotive with age and experience. As the record's closing cut 'Not Feeling Any Pain' so optimistically intones this is an album perfect for sampling at the end of a day hard fought but, all too commonly, rarely won. Despite its rustic styling, Field Songs is nothing but contemporary when heard in the context of the current state of the world in 2011.