William Elliott Whitmore is a singer-songwriter/banjoist/guitarist/drum-stompin’ solo act from Lee County, Iowa. He has released six full-length albums that seamlessly meld country, blues, folk, and punk styles - spanning from 2003’s Hymns for the Hopeless (Southern Records) to 2015’s Radium Death (ANTI-). His songs are haunting, rustic, powerful, and real – byproducts of living his entire life on the family farm, being involved in the hardcore-punk scene in the local community, and touring hard across the country. His seventh album Kilonova (2018) is different from everything else in his catalog. Whitmore’s first long-form release on Bloodshot Records is a collection of 10 cover songs from artists who have influenced his 15-plus-year career.
Each of the tunes offers a glimpse into how his attitude and aesthetic were formed, like a series of tattoos, scars, or other time-accumulated personal markings. Kilonova takes on a variety of musical heroes, both obvious and not, both well known and not, in a range of sonic forms. In the stark a capella take on Dock Boggs’ 1920s old-timey hit “Country Blues,” you can hear WEW at the pulpit, evangelizing the truth to his believers. The classic Harlan Howard country number “Busted” is updated with a swampy, bluesy version revealing a modern despair and necessary perseverance. For those who find a similarity between Whitmore’s voice to that of Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits, his equally erratic, demented and raspy-baritoned cover of the former’s “Bat Chain Puller” is the perfect medicine.
But there are some surprises as well. While celebrated amongst a punk and indie rock audience as much as he is by country-folk heads, when WEW puts his unique spins on Magnetic Fields’ “Fear of Trains” and “Don’t Pray on Me” by Bad Religion he makes the songs his own, bending their original style into the nebulous artistic nature he has created. It’s punk rock without the breakneck tempos; it’s rock-and-roll without turning it up to 11, and on the Bill Withers 1971 original “Ain’t No Sunshine," Whitmore is every bit as soulful and poignant without having Booker T and Donald “Duck” Dunn as his backing band.