William Elliott Whitmore isn’t shy. Straight from the top of Field Songs— the singer/songwriter’s seventh full-length album and second on ANTI— the farm-raised, cornfed Iowa boy lets you know that he’s, well, a farm-raised, cornfed Iowa boy. With a banjo, a few drums and his bellowing, baritone voice, he reminds us who he is, where he comes from and what his music stands for. Unlike previous work that points out the negatives in life, like the politically charged Animals in the Dark or the heartbreaking Songs of the Blackbird, Field Songs celebrates the moment — right now. He orders the us to “bury [our] troubles,” and embrace the life in which we’ve been blessed. And it’s just up to us if we want to listen.
Whitmore’s voice doesn’t initially seem like it would lend itself so well to joyful lyrics. Perhaps that’s because Field Songs‘ positive lyrical direction is different than his previous work, or perhaps, more accurately, it’s because his voice sounds like a washed up, mangy, 83-year-old man sitting on his porch in the July Iowa humidity — not the 33-year-old, tattoo-covered Whitmore. This vocal sound gives Whitmore authority with his words, and, more importantly, we believe him when he speaks. “Remember when we had nothing, but we made it work,” he croons on “Let’s Do Something Impossible,” “Like Paris in 1943, honestly, it was a miracle.”
Admittedly, Whitmore’s vocal box can’t always save him from the campiness of his lyrics. Folk music is, perhaps more than any other genre, about the ability to convey emotion. And when music is made on such an emotional level, it’s very easy to miss and rely on cliches. “Get There From Here” is a prime example of a miss. When you’re a dude with a guitar and plan to sing about seeing “darkness in your time, but the sun is going to shine,” as listeners, we demand a little bit more than just strums on an acoustic guitar.
But hey, that’s okay. The rest of Field Songs shows Whitmore off in the way that he wants to be shown off. He’s an Iowa boy. He loves his family. He loves his land. That’s what is most important to him. So? He sings about it. Listen if you want. He doesn’t really care.