Setting William Elliot Whitmore’s newest work from Anti- onto my record player, I feel like I should be using an old-timey phonograph. His sound is warm, calling back to leaner times in music production—just a man with his guitar and a story to tell. When I first heard his raspy voice full of life’s hassles and revelations, I imagined a weathered old timer. I was a few decades off of course, but this is the style of music my good friend reassuringly and lovingly refers to as “sad bastard music.” This is an aesthetic of when punks move into folk music essentially, sharing the same raw tales but with more twang and somber style. It’s perfect for his third album on Anti- Records, the sister label to the largest, independent punk label Epitaph.
Folk doesn’t mean Whitmore comes across as tame by any means. The opener, “Healing To Do” is big and bustling with a fast, hollow electric guitar plucking, and William’s ambitious grumble setting out plans to improve. “No one can know what we’ve been through, goes to show—We’ve all got some healing to do.” Alright, so they fucked up as we all do, but Whitmore holds strong in his determination to make things better. The swaying track wraps up with a cathartic howl and powerful slug of acoustic chords that reassure me into believing those words.
His stories hustle through the speakers like a big, rambling party on tracks like “Don’t Strike Me Down.” It’s a song of impending doom, but defiant to the last pummeling. Defiance seems to be the resounding theme of Radium Death. As the second half of the record plays, it tells like a life story on “Have Mercy” and “Ain’t Gone Yet,” there’s a battle against mortality. With lines like, “You’re mistaken if you think I’m gonna let you drag me through the mud again. You’re mistaken if you think I’m gonna sit idly by while you take that knife and stab it in.” It’s a bit of the blues.
It’s sad bastard music. And it’s beautiful.
WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE W/ ESME PATTERSON. SUN 4.12. SOMERVILLE ARTS AT THE ARMORY , 191 HIGHLAND AVE., SOMERVILLE. 617-718-2191. 7PM/$16/ALL AGES.