Music review: Radium Death by William Elliott Whitmore

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 April, 2015, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 April, 2015, 10:38pm

Radium Death
William Elliott Whitmore
Anti Records

On his eighth album, Radium Death, Midwest American roots and blues musician William Elliott Whitmore takes a sonic departure from his predominantly acoustic solo recordings. While not quite as shocking as Bob Dylan going electric, the news of Billy Elliott plugging in a guitar and welcoming fellow musicians into his studio may not be considered such sweet music by fans of his banjo-led punk folk.

They needn't be worried. While the full band instrumentation certainly creates a more expansive and richer sound, there is no less truth and honesty to these 10 tracks of earthy Americana than on any of Whitmore's previous records. Still living and toiling on the Iowa family farm where he grew up, a stone's throw away from the banks of the Mississippi River, Whitmore has always worn his bleeding heart on his rolled-up shirt sleeve, and the ace up that sleeve is still his distinctive gravelly voice.

Opening with buzzing lead single Healing to Do, an uptempo rocker full of raspy vocals and an almighty guttural howl, it's followed by the stripped-down bluegrass jam Civilizations. Whitmore returns to his banjo and declarations of punkish rebellion, singing: "Pay no attention, I'm just trying to exist/ I've said too much, now my name's on a list/ Pay no attention to me".

Death and destruction are always close at hand as Whitmore pours out his soul, but the fuller, more energetic songs ( Don't Strike Me Down, Trouble in Your Heart) only serve to highlight the intimacy and optimism that inflect Whitmore's vignettes of defiance and anguish, as on the folksy torch song A Thousand Deaths and the pedal steel of Can't Go Back.