William Elliott Whitmore Paints Vivid Lyrical Pictures with Dark Folk Sounds on ‘I’m with You’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

If you’ve ever seen William Elliott Whitmore perform, you know that he is one of those performers whose power comes from the fact that he can provide so much depth with minimal instrumentation. He lands pretty firmly in the folk-Americana arena, but has been known to open for bands like Clutch.

I’m with You is Whitmore’s eighth studio album and his first album of original material since 2015. The album finds him reflecting on some big topics like family and funerals.

It’s hard not to be moved by “Solar Flare” because it holds a lesson for us all. Over a very mellow acoustic-guitar part, he sings about seeing old friends a funeral. He wonders “why I don’t live every day like it’s my last.”

With minimal instrumentation, Whitmore displays a variety of sounds. “Put It to Use” features banjo and fiddle that give it a distinct bluegrass feel while the beat adds some punk to the mix. “My Mind Can Be Cruel to Me”, on the other hand, features some pedal steel and could just as easily be a Drag the River song.

“MK Ultra Blues” is a heavy but interesting song. In it, he plays his banjo and tells the story of how the CIA introduced soldiers to LSD during the Cold War. Like some of Steve Earle’s songs, this one has historical subject matter and a dark mood. The straightforward storytelling style is also pretty similar to Steve Earle.

There is a quiet desperation in these songs that is a testament to Whitmore’s songwriting abilities. You can hear this throughout the album, but “Save Ourselves” is a really good example of it. Over a muted melody, he sings about how no one is going to help us and we have to save ourselves. The lyrics “You can say that you’ll pray for me, but it won’t do a bit of good” are sung at a volume only slightly louder than a whisper, but they are powerful.    

You can’t help but be impressed by this album. Like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, this album is mellow, but strong as any gut punch. Whitmore has the rare ability to paint vivid pictures with his words. The result is that you envision the stories of these songs and you feel every word he sings in his raspy voice.

Photo credit: Chris Casella

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