With a voice that sounds like the reincarnation of an old gospel preacher from the 1920s and a fascination with sin, death, and redemption to match, William Elliott Whitmore is one of the most unique artists to emerge on the Americana scene in years. The son of a farmer, Whitmore was raised on a horse farm on the banks of the Mississippi River outside of Keokuk, Iowa. His songs have a stark universality that is sketched out with minimal instrumentation, usually just a banjo or guitar and a smattering of percussion. Whitmore is rumored to have gotten his start in the music business by working as a roadie for Iowa hardcore band Ten Grand, famous for their fast-and-furious 20-minute sets, and Whitmore frequently stepped in with his songs to fill out the time. His voice is the one Tom Waits has been after for years (imagine a cross between Captain Beefheart and Dock Boggs), and his folk- and blues-inflected songs feel like they've been left out in the rain for months, weathered and tightened to the snapping point.
Whitmore released Hymns for the Hopeless on Southern in 2003, followed by Ashes to Dust, also on Southern, in 2005. He appeared on the 2006 compilation CD/DVD entitled Let's Be Active, along with two other artists. In 2006 Whitmore released a third album on Southern, the characteristically stark (and critically acclaimed) Song of the Blackbird. Animals in the Dark followed in 2009. Whitmore toured extensively in late 2009 and for much of 2010 and saw his reputation as a songwriter increase, playing for ever larger audiences. He returned to recording in early 2011 with another stripped-down set, entitled Field Songs, which was released by Anti in July of that year. He undertook a tour with Low Anthem and James Vincent McMorrow before embarking on his own headlining tour, which took him everywhere from small clubs to folk festival stages.
But Whitmore never gave up farming. With a desire to change up his process, he began writing songs in 2013 and traveling two hours to work with producer Luke Tweedy in Iowa City over the next year and a half. The end result was Radium Death, an album that, while retaining Whitmore's hard folk roots, was fleshed out by full-on rock band arrangements. Anti released the set in March of 2015. ~ Steve Leggett