William Elliott Whitmore’s Anti debut, Animals in the Dark, was something of an outlier in his discography—the bigger label release introduced more instrumentation and a more global lyrical scope than much of his earlier work. While an excellent album, it isn’t fully indicative of Whitmore’s strengths, and with Field Songs, he returns to his son of the soil theme, built on an ideal of hardworking Americana that has characterized much of his work. At the core of the record are only three things: Whitmore’s voice, his guitar and/or banjo, and an atmospheric snapshot of rural culture. There are some backing pieces in place: deeper instrumentation and simple, complementary drum parts, but the album is mostly Whitmore alone.
Many words have been spilt already on Whitmore’s coarse, “whiskey” voice, with ample character and wisdom buried within its textures. Make no mistake, his voice isn’t a tool to conjure working class imagery, rather he crafts his singing with a true ability to conjure emotion and hit his notes. In “Let’s Do Something Impossible,” which takes an underdog mentally while referencing several historic instances of the little guy winning, Whitmore opens his voice in a way previously unheard, and he shows impressive vocals chops that show he takes his craft seriously. He improves with each release.
As for the content, Field Songs is an apt title, drawing inspiration from planting, harvesting, the seasons, and relying on the soil for one’s living. Beyond the rural pieces, though, Whitmore reaches out to the minority, whether that means a marginalized ethnic group or a forgotten way of life, his perspective shines light on the commonalities that tie everyone together. The lyrics are poignant and without cliché, and the tone of his voice unites theme with music in a powerful fashion. To summarize his tone, the idea behind much of Whitmore’s work is to accept the negative along with the positive and to find solace in the experience.
At only eight songs, the record feels a bit short, but it’s still satisfying as a full release, while the shorter playlist gives more traction to each individual song. With Field Songs, Whitmore indeed tells the story and feel of his Iowa homeland with honor and truth. But, the folksy, minimal guitar/banjo lines and his poignant voice also expresses a more universal tale about the hardships and celebrations of life.
8.6 / 10
Posted April 30, 2018, 5:53 p.m.
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