When William Elliott Whitmore signed to Bloodshot, I thought it was a natural fit. I like Whitmore; I like the label. Win/win. But I also wondered how an artist I think of as more on the folk/bluegrass side fit with a label I think of as Americana/alt-country. Similar, for sure, but not quite there. These are silly semantics to worry about, but I’m going somewhere with it.
After 2018’s covers album Kilonova, Whitmore is back with I’m With You, his first record of originals for the label. It’s likely that I overlooked some of Whitmore’s subtle twang in the past, but now it’s somehow one of the first things that jumps out to me. It’s certainly not his defining trait, but I hear just a little bit more country in songs like “Put It To Use” and “Black Iowa Dirt.” But Whitmore’s true definitive trait is his storytelling and his passion. With a voice that’s often described as “wise beyond its years” (and weathered beyond its years), his songs are personal, reflective and earnest. I’m With You doesn’t just have nine new, folk ballads. It has nine new stories that cover everything from Iowa pride and farming to LSD and the mysteries of life.
For some songwriters storytelling is a more of a crutch than a skill, but Whitmore’s songs are layered and complete. The music and lyrics work in tandem, with instrumentation and tone adding emotion and atmosphere instead of just moving the story forward. “Save Ourselves” may be the best example of this. It’s first person and thoughtful, but the slowly fading guitar at the end then delves into a sorrow that hits much deeper. “History” is both personal, introspective, and emotionally complex in how it addresses pain but also empowerment. It’s not a perfect record, but few are. I personally find “MK Ultra Blues” to be a little too much on the storytelling side and, while closer “Black Iowa Dirt” is fun, it’s also a bit hokey. But these are minor transgressions. Really, I dig it all.
I talked about genre at the start. I’m With You falls into a category just like everything else, but it overrides those boundaries. This is from the heart and it should appeal to people who don’t just seek out a specific section at the record store. Music, as with all of the arts, is often most powerful when its connection is unspoken. Whitmore’s soul is on display in his work. A lot of the time when you hear a comment like “wise beyond its years,” the end product comes across as forced. That’s absolutely not the case in Whitmore’s work. He’s not just singing about a lifestyle. He lives it. And that emotion comes through clearly in I’m With You.
8.5 / 10
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Posted Aug. 31, 2020, 8:36 p.m.
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