PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

William Elliott Whitmore Covers the Cosmos on 'Kilonova'

Photo: Doug Ewing / Courtesy of Bloodshot Records

William Elliott Whitmore has just released his first album of covers. Kilonova features ten renditions of well-known and obscure songs that have never sounded as organic as they do here.

William Elliott Whitmore


7 September 2018

After six full-length albums of original material, Iowa plowboy William Elliott Whitmore has just released his first album of covers. Kilonova features ten renditions of well-known and obscure songs that have never sounded as organic as they do here. After all, this is from a man who once sang about eating and drinking rich black soil! He has a deep, gruff voice that seems to come from the back of his aching throat. That makes him sound hard-working and sincere whether he's singing the blues, observing social injustice, commenting on the meaning of life, or running from the law. His gravitas is augmented by a sense of humor at the absurdity of it all. He sings with a hick accent (re: "forget" always sounds like "fergit") which isn't really the way farmers talk in the Hawkeye State, but he is authentically rural.

Take his acapella version of Dock Boggs' 1920s melancholy "Country Blues". Whitmore's solo vocals sound like they come right out of an old 78 rpm record without the scratches. He keeps the cadence moving forward without ever rushing forward to mimic the walk of life to a certain death. We are all in the jailhouse of existence until the end. And don't expect any solace from God. Whitmore takes punk band Bad Religion's anthemic atheistic "Don't Pray on Me" and turns it into a banjo strummin' ditty delivered by a rural preacher right out of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. In addition, he transforms ZZ Top's vision of an angel "Hot Blue and Righteous" and into a soulful plea for connection to another human being. The songs stay true to their original themes even as he twists them into something strangely different from their initial concerns.

Speaking of strangely different, Whitmore also takes on Captain Beefheart's "Bat Chain Puller" and transforms it into an acoustic surrealist composition full of odd squeals and time structures. Whitmore sings it in a full, rich, authoritative voice that seems to come from heaven as he makes pronouncements and observations. While Whitmore and Beefheart share similar low baritones, the two performances are very different. In Whitmore's version, the wry archness of Beefheart's visions fall like drops on a dry field and evaporate soon after they hit the ground. Whitmore has one waiting for the next line in anticipation while Beefheart has one wondering what has been heard.

Kilonova's most poignant song is Whitmore's acoustic folk rendition of Stephin Merritt's "Fear of Trains". Whitmore sings of the mythic plight of a Blackfoot girl whose family, culture, and ways of life have been destroyed by white civilization's progress. Merritt's lyrics are associative more than narrative and jump all over the map. Whitmore shows the links and influences in his emotive rendering of her tale. He strums and picks his guitar gently to set the mood while he sings in a mellow voice of a girl whose spirit was shattered by forces beyond her control that she would never understand.

Whitmore also has a sense of humor and does serious/funny songs made famous by Jimmy Driftwood ("Run, Johnny, Run"), Johnny Cash ("Five Feet High and Rising") and Ray Charles ("Busted"). Hard times are always good for laughs, and Whitmore understands comedy is best delivered with a dry expression. There may be nothing funny about being harassed by the government, living in poverty, or being washed out of one's home, but then again, it really is amusing in a cosmic sense. One can't really help but smiling at someone else's troubles.

The whole rationale behind an album of covers is that there is more than one way to hear a song. Whitmore doesn't just offer other versions here. He makes these songs distinctively his own through his varied approaches to the material. Kilonova is an astronomical term about what happens cosmically when two stars collide and create an energy larger than simple addition would suggest. That seems an apt metaphor for what happens here.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.