Pity the Americana singer/songwriter.
No matter how in vogue the genre may be (looking at you Mumfords, with a sidewise glare at The Lumineers), it's tough to stand out among the selvedge denim-wearing crowd. Tattoos? Everyone's got 'em. Suspenders? Grab 'em at Target. Punk past? Who doesn't have a Ramones shirt in their closet?
William Elliott Whitmore has got all that. A guy who came up strumming his acoustic in the punk scene and possessing a big gravel pit of a voice, he's emblematic of what's happening in "new folk" right now. Not that the tag sits comfortably on his shoulders.
"I almost don't like the term folk," the 34-year-old songwriter laughs. "People think of James Taylor, and that's not what I do. I like James Taylor, but what I do is different."
Different? Maybe. Excellent? Yes.
Whitmore's latest, Field Songs, isn't going to freak anyone out of a No Depression mood, but it's a solid, knotty piece of work, a hard bite of old fashioned optimism. It's a good "election year" record, with a fierce centrist streak ("Let's Do Something Impossible," "Get There From Here," "We'll Carry On") that makes you want to clasp hands with someone who might not share your every view.
It's an overwhelmingly positive record, with lines like "the best of times ain't happened yet," a sentiment that flies in the face of our "woe is us" national mentality.
"I wanted to convey that, too," says Whitmore of the record's hopeful bent. "I've written a lot of records, and over time you change as a person. No matter what you're doing, hopefully you're changing and evolving. I've had a lot of sad records, a lot of sad songs, I realize, but I don't feel as sad anymore. I feel pretty happy. I wanted the music to reflect that. You can't sing sad songs forever. Singing the song is supposed to make you feel better, so if it doesn't make you feel better it's not doing its job."
He's no preacher, but it's hard not to feel the uplift of Field Songs. ("I've seen darkness in my time, but the sun is going to shine," he sings on "We'll Get There From Here," without a trace of Up with People Cheez Whiz.)
"I was never a Christian, but I could always appreciate those gospel records," Whitmore says. "And every country singer has a gospel record; they've all got one. I don't really believe in god or anything, but what beautiful songs. I've always had that attitude about religion. But that feeling! I always thought, 'If I could put that feeling into whatever I believe in, my loose set of beliefs, if I could capture that feeling, I could have something.'"
Something, dare I say, that doesn't really need any pity.
William Elliott Whitmore is scheduled to perform Thursday, September 27, at the Rhythm Room.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.