‘Rootsy’ is a term that gets used a lot in describing that certain kind of Americana that draws heavily on rural country blues, evoking cotton fields and dustbowls. But if it’s actually possible to hear earth, soil, you can hear it in the music of William Elliott Whitmore. And with his sixth album, Field Songs, he has returned to his own roots – that of growing up on a farm in Iowa – to create an affecting, personal album.
For those unfamiliar with Whitmore, the first thing that will grab you is the voice. Whitmore produces a deep, rustic sound that most musicians would kill for. It is immediately powerful, gritty, full of character and utterly distinctive. He sounds like William Elliott Whitmore, and no one else. He also sounds about twice his 33 years. It needs little more than sparse guitar or banjo tunes to compliment it.
And here, that is all it gets. Where Whitmore went for a slightly bigger sound on his 2009 release Animals In The Dark, Field Songs is stripped back to the bones. The stark sound fits a more personal album. Where Animals was full of characters, this is full of raw emotion. Opener ‘Bury Your Burdens In The Ground’ sets the tone as Whitmore sings: “If you’ve got burdens don’t carry them/Just bury them in the ground/If you’re hurting don’t worry/I’ll try to be around”.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Whitmore brings a message of hope. Life in these fields may be tough, but good things can grow from this soil. There are messages of hope in ‘Let’s Do Something Impossible’ and ‘We’ll Carry On’. “The field are ploughed/My work is through, the day is done/Nothing left for me to do but toast the setting sun/And I am not feeling any pain” he intones on the rousing closer ‘Not Feeling Any Pain’, a satisfying stomp sung by a man who can be proud of his day’s work. And after producing another gem, Whitmore has plenty to be proud of.