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Monday, January 4, 2010


320 KBPS

William Elliott Whitmore hasn't changed one iota for Song of the Blackbird, the third in a stylistic trilogy that began with 2003's Hymns for the Hopeless and continued in 2005 with Ashes to Dust. He's still fascinated by death and the re-examination of a life lived that death forces into play, and he still approaches his songs on a sparse, rustic level, sounding very much like an old Appalachian banjo player who's been reading Nietzsche while throwing down shots of bootleg moonshine. Whitmore's remarkable croak of a voice makes all of this work, and if that voice and the general dour, slow-paced feel of his songs makes him seem like a one-trick pony, well, that pony knows one hell of a trick. Song of the Blackbird doesn't set any new dishes out on the table, consisting of Whitmore singing over his own banjo or acoustic guitar accompaniment, for the most part (some moody drums and organ creep into a couple of the songs), and life doesn't seem to have been any easier on this latest bunch of Whitmore's hardscrabble characters, but while it's easy to view him as a scribe of the dire and the dying, there's a stubborn kind of faith at the root of his songs, a sort of unsaid hope in redemption and renewal that puts tremendous faith in the rhythm of the soil. Things are born, they live, they die, and the whole cycle renews. In the final song here, "Everyday," the sun comes up over the field to the east and then a verse or two later it sets over the field to the west. That's something, Whitmore is saying, that you can count on everyday. For all of their dark and desperate fears, the characters in these songs all cling to that notion of renewal, and Song of the Blackbird, although it moves track to track like a dirge stuck in a single key, is full of the hope for redemption, and there is a fervent and stubborn joy here, buried in the darkness.

1. Dry
2. The Chariot
3. One Man's Shame
4. Rest His Soul
5. And Then the Rains Came
6. Lee County Flood
7. Take It on the Chin
8. Red Buds
9. Everyday

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