Sep 072018
 

kilonovaWilliam Elliott Whitmore is 40, but he has always sounded like a much older man, with a deep, soulful voice that gives everything he sings a certain gravitas.  Think Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or late Dylan, or most of all, Johnny Cash at his most apocalyptic.  If Whitmore sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” you’d still worry, and probably be unhappy.  I first heard Whitmore in 2006, opening for Lucero, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and was immediately transfixed by his timeless voice, dark songs, austere banjo, guitar and foot stomping accompaniment, and intense performance.

Born and raised on a 150-acre farm in southeastern Iowa, which he inherited from his parents and still owns, Whitmore grew up singing and playing guitar and banjo, with musical influences that started with country and moved toward punk as he got older.  At a certain point, though, Whitmore realized that he needed to focus on the folky, rustic, blues music that he grew up on–but with a punk edge.

So when Bloodshot Records released Kilonova, an album of covers of (mostly) lesser known songs from many musical eras, the question was, how would such a distinctive artist put his stamp on this block of diverse songs? “Diverse” barely begins to tell the story–artists range from Dock Boggs, to Johnny Cash,  to the Magnetic Fields to Bad Religion.

In short, the answer is, remarkably well.
Continue reading »

Jul 312018
 
Arctic Monkeys – Lipstick Vogue (Elvis Costello cover)

Arctic Monkeys got a lot of attention covering the Strokes last week (especially because on his new album, Alex Turner sings: “I just want to be one of the Strokes”). But I preferred their wonderfully sleazy “Lipstick Vogue” cover, played in honor of Costello as he recovered from cancer surgery. Turner’s a product of his influences; in addition to the Strokes and Elvis, he appears to have his Nick Cave snake slither down cold. Continue reading »

Jul 192011
 

For a young artist, Iowa folk troubadour William Elliott Whitmore has a timeless sound. His thick, growly voice and affinity for acoustic guitar and banjo link him to the icons of country and folk, from Woody Guthrie to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott to parts of Bob Dylan’s early career. On his new album Field Songs, Whitmore appeals to the age old traditions of gospel-influenced bluegrass and southern work songs. Going even further to contextualize his work, William Elliot just released a pair of covers, taking on compositions by the legendary Johnny Cash and the more contemporary country group Red Meat. Continue reading »

Oct 192010
 

If you’re a big fan of Bad Religion, you should know this about me up front: I had no idea that they were as influential as they apparently are. I knew them simply as a decent punk band that, for reasons I didn’t fully appreciate, seemed to be on constant rotation on my hometown radio station. So you can imagine my confusion when I heard that a pretty solid lineup featuring the likes of Tegan and Sara, Switchfoot, Ted Leo, the Weakerthans, and others were covering their favorite Bad Religion songs for the tribute album Germs of Perfection: A Tribute to Bad Religion. “Does the world need this?” I wondered.

As it turns out, I was kind of an idiot. Bad Religion’s been around for 31 years—as in, since 1979. Their guitarist for most of that time has been Brett Gurewitz, founder and owner of Epitaph Records and affiliates ANTI-, Burning Heart Records, Fat Possum Records, and Hellcat Records. Germs of Perfection, which was released by SPIN and MySpace Music as a free download today, commemorates the 30-year anniversary of Epitaph, which is as good a reason as any for such a tribute. Continue reading »