DABBLED IN HOGS 


"Just enjoying a beautiful evening," says William Elliott Whitmore from his Iowa home. "It's harvest season — very significant." And he is intimately familiar with the cultivation cycle.

The 30-year-old folk singer with the hard-gravel timbre grew up on a family farm down a little way from the house he's in now. They planted row crops, raised some horses and "dabbled in hogs."

"We were never big-time commercial farmers," he admits. Still, Whitmore had to leave full-time farming when he decided to devote himself to music, though he maintains a subsistence garden. Yet even his music is born from family tradition: Both his grandfathers played the guitar and the banjo. While his personal tastes ran largely to punk bands like Ten Grand (whom he got his start opening for), folk was bred into him young.

His voice is unnerving. Over the phone, Whitmore sounds like a sturdy Midwesterner with an education in SoCal punk, not the Johnny-Cash-gargling-turpentine, world-weary antihero he plays in his songs. It's an irony he shares with Tom Waits — sounding older than his age lends him credibility and authenticity against his simple, pastoral lyrics.

"People tend to associate it with a rustic, hard-smoking, hard-drinking lifestyle," says Whitmore.

He also believes his genuine rural background is a component that's missing from what he calls "young country."

"It used to be `the` lifestyle `that` created the music, and now it's music trying to pretend to a lifestyle," he says of the modern country genre. "These guys have never shoveled horseshit."

His knowledge of the soil keeps him calm, if not giddy, during the current financial meltdown.

"If there's another Great Depression coming, I say bring it on," he says. "People need to be reminded … if you've got a little bit of dirt and some seeds, you can survive." Luckily, says Whitmore, "people always need local shows."

Whitmore has opened for the likes of Clutch, Lucero and the Pogues, and this time hits town with his old friends from the Midwest, Murder by Death. He's no stranger to the studio, however. Since 2002, Whitmore has released four albums and just completed his first for mini-major Anti Records, which he recorded in his Iowa garage. The simplicity suits him fine.

"`Working with Anti` has been a great experience," says Whitmore. "They let me do whatever I want."

music@orlandoweekly.com

More by T. I. Fraser

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