You would likely be forgiven if you mistook Iowa-based singer/songwriter William Elliott Whitmore for someone much older. While still in his early 40’s, Whitmore’s straight forward folk and country roots, would feel right at home alongside the decades old output of Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rogers, or A.P. Carter, the principle song collector of The Carter Family. While I’m With You is Whitmore’s 8th album, it’s his first with original songs in 5 years, but his ’18 album of covers might better express his musical interests. Kilonova included songs by Johnny Cash and Bill Withers as well as Bad Religion, ZZ Top and Captain Beefheart.
Whether plucking away at a banjo with violin and foot stompin’ accompaniment, or strumming an acoustic guitar, Whitmore’s music touches those traditional roots. He plays and sings about the very stuff of existence, addressing the shortness and uncertainty of life in “Solar Flare,” and the wisdom passed from generation to generation, if we’re listening and willing to “Put It To Use.” His downhome poet philosopher bona fides can be hard earned, as he sings in “My Mind Is Cruel to Me,” but he’s taking account of all it that it means to make one’s living by growing crops in the “Black Iowa Dirt” knowing that’s where you will lay down for your final rest when all is said and done.
“MK Ultra Blues” is a talking blues over banjo that discusses the federal government’s experiments with LSD which opened the doors for Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. “History” leans nicely into some pedal steel, while Whitmore ruminates on whether we ever actually learn not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations, while the gentle reflection on the meaning of life and the possibility of our healing and well-being in “Save Ourselves,” which has a lovely lilting acoustic guitar lead. The nine tracks of I’m With You add nicely to a solid body of work, managing to pay tribute musically to all that has gone before, while still making a statement that’s as personal and current as today’s newspapers. While existential and dark in all the best ways, it never feels depressing, which is a remarkable achievement these days.
Key Tracks: “My Mind Is Cruel to Me” / “Put It To Use” / “Black Iowa Dirt”
Artists With Similar Fire: Justin Townes Earle / Robbie Fulks / Iron & Wine
-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb