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.





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.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

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.