William Elliott Whitmore - Ashes To Dust (Cover Artwork)

William Elliott Whitmore

Ashes To Dust (2005)


With his deep, gruff delivery, casual strumming, and tales of the countryside, William Elliott Whitmore's songs sound like they could have been outtakes from the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. This is boxcar-hopping, straw-chewing, moonshine-sipping folk in its simplest form. Whitmore may be a young man, but on Ashes To Dust he sounds like a wrinkled, rocking chair veteran who spends his time outside the general store spitting tobacco and telling tales of times gone by. Unfortunately, this traditional sound is not only his trademark, but also his Achilles' heel.

Whitmore seems to do more rehashing than reinventing, and it shows. Everything from the chord progressions to his sense of melancholy can come off contrived. His Tom Waits-like croon often seems to lack conviction and his dark diatribes on Iowa and death are usually unconvincing. Instead of sounding world-weary, he just comes off melodramatic.

Where Whitmore does sound good is on songs like "Midnight," "Diggin' My Grave," and "Lift My Jug," thanks to their driving percussion that brings life into his otherwise somber tone. And while many of his lines seem to be old folk clichés and forced rhymes, he can still manage some poetic fare. Lines like "Well way back in the sticks is where I feel alive / and in my rusty old 66' that won't even go 55" and "Your fistful of roadside flowers remains / Just so in a dime store vase," are subtle and eloquent in their portrayal of backwoods beauty.

Sure, I know folk is folk is folk, and its appeal is rooted in its attachment to tradition, but artists from Dylan and Springsteen to Bright Eyes and David Dondero have found ways to breathe new life into the genre.

Yes, Whitmore does know how to play folk, but his purist notions seem to be holding him back from creating something better than this.