William Elliott Whitmore – Radium Death – 2015


It’s been a while since any song made me pine for the days of driving around with my best friend, Angie, in her Mustang and the opening track of William Elliott Whitmore’s Radium Death has done just that. “Healing To Do” manages to dredge up the innocence of why that we did what we did, why we tried to get lost on back roads of Southeast Texas. It would have been the perfect song for exploring the turnarounds on the Brazos or flipping a coin at a four way stop and letting chance decide our direction. Those times were different and her and I have both changed but those times shaped what we both became. Now that Summer and all its moist heat is upon us it’s time for that sort of nostalgia, making this a perfect song for the moment. Needless to say I was hooked from the start.

Well I played my cards the best I could and I came by it honestly
And worrying about the past never did no good what’s gone is gone is done you see
And no-one can know just what we’ve been though
It just goes to show that we’ve all got some healing to do
– Healing To Do

William Elliott Whitmore comes back to the same topics again and again but does so without being a one trick pony and Radium Death isn’t any exception to that. Love, loss, drinking, living simply, and a deep rooted care for the land are all present but they seem to be viewed through a slight less dark lens. That’s not to say this is a happy album but it does seem slight more hopeful and yet at the same time some of the darkness seems to have become a reluctant acceptance of the way things are. I feel like this has led to a less extreme experience but not in a bad way. I think this sort of change comes with age, as we move out of being angry young men and in to full blown curmudgeons, but it’s not a bad thing. In this case I feel like it’s caused Radium Death to be less of a roller coaster and more cohesive from start finish.

Oh put it to your lips and take a little nip
You know your bell is wrong when you can’t feel your tongue
And all you did was take a little sip
Oh, tip back the jar, so good so far
And we’ll drink ’til we don’t know what do
We’ll hoop and we’ll holler
And we’ll take another swallow of that South Lee County brew
– South Lee Country Brew

Musically this album has everything you’d expect from Whitmore and then some. “Healing To Do” is a rocker with distorted guitars and a driving rhythm that is reminiscent of the gritty tacks you’d expect from a one man blues act while “Go On Home” is a slow, picked acoustic number with nothing other than a guitar and some crickets in the background providing depth. The ever present tortured voice that he belts out his songs with is the binder that holds everything together and makes it all feel so very real. The expansion of the musical arrangements doesn’t take away from the feeling that Whitmore creates with his albums. I despise change for the sake change but this feels more like a natural progression and the way the tracks are laid out the different styles punctuate the album in a way that doesn’t jar the listener’s sensibilities.

What the hell is goin’ on
I’ve been away for far too long
I’ve forgotten what it’s like to stop
Spent my time just being’ gone
– Time To Go Home

While not the album you may have been expecting there’s enough of the old here to satisfy any die-hard fan and enough of the new to make it feel fresh. I can say without reservation that this is Essential Listening and that next week this will be spilling out of the speakers of a rental car as I make my way from Ontario to Palmdale because it’s that sort of record. You can grab it over at the Anti site or from his official website and if you don’t already have this you should be jumping on it.