• Features

Of Blues and Blackbirds

written by: on July 24, 2012

Born and raised on a farm in Iowa, William Elliot Whitmore is a country boy through and through. Riddled with tattoos and a whiskey-tinged growl, Whitmore may just be the ultimate man. And when his rough and tumble attitude is paired with a delicate banjo, the outcome is unmatched. On his third album in 2006, Song of the Blackbird, his soulful sound hit its peak.

Whitmore’s beautifully simple string accompaniment is peaceful while he sings of sorrow and redemption. It’s obvious that his inspiration comes entirely from where he lives, in his lyrics and sound. Whitmore seems like a simple guy, one without any glitz or glamour. He doesn’t just sing folk music; it’s his way of living.

The album, recorded and produced at Phantom Manor in Chicago, features almost entirely Whitmore and his banjo and acoustic guitar. Accompanied by a few others sporadically throughout the tracks, Song of the Blackbird is a direct product of Whitmore’s personal life. Whitmore’s two previous albums, Hymns for the Hopeless in 2003 and Ashes to Dust in 2005 had a more alt-country tinge that he swapped out for a blues overtone in Blackbird. 

In later years, like 2009’s Animals in the Dark, Whitmore adopted a harder sound dedicated to stickin’ it to the man.

Throughout his career, Whitmore takes his signature sound and adds a new twist for each album. It’s a refreshing approach to creating music that doesn’t get tiresome, because he never loses the truth and deep subject matter he is known for.

Even when Whitmore’s lyrics are dark, which they tend to be, the music just makes you feel good. Song of the Blackbird opens up with “Dry” as a soft banjo riff takes over. As Whitmore’s raspy tenor chimes in, he sings of the sounds of the blackbird. Somehow, his voice is so soft and sweet that the actual sound of it becomes overlooked. But in songs like “One Man’s Shame,” Whitmore’s vocals are rigid and demanding. A repeating riff is perfectly accompanied by toe tapping in the tune of a man’s mistake that takes him to the end.

“All that static in the attic, that’s just an old drunk ghost. His chains are rattlin’ but his end is close. Ain’t no hell below and ain’t no heaven above, I came for the drinks but I stayed for the love.”

“And Then the Rains Came” is a little over two minutes of distortion and strings with the sound of rain in the background. The calming sound is a perfect rendition of a major rainfall. The song leads into “Lee County Flood,” which explains when the rain came and how people felt during a storm that traps you inside. The quick paced tune mimics the bustle of a trechurous rainfall, which he describes with a heavy southern accent to have “sounded like a thousand horses hoofs, the sound of the pouring rain on the old tin roof.”

Song of the Blackbird ends with “Everday,” a personal reflection song of love. Whitmore’s vocals translate so well into the heartfelt song. He sings of pain and sorrow, but also of realization. He sings “I’m a part of you, you’re a part of me,” as he understands mistakes and hopes moving on with resolve the heartache.

Whitmore bears his heart, translating all the pain and happiness of his life into songs that listeners can relate to.

William Elliot Whitmore – Song of the Blackbird:

  1. “Dry”
  2. “The Chariot”
  3. “One Man’s Shame”
  4. “Rest His Soul”
  5. “And Then the Rains Came”
  6. “Lee County Flood”
  7. “Take It on the Chin”
  8. “Red Buds”
  9. “Everyday”