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William Elliott Whitmore's stunning debut album, Hymns for the Hopeless, a death-haunted collection of country-folk dirges sung in an ancient croak of a voice, begged the question, if an acceptance of death is both redemption and deliverance from a life of pain, struggle and regret, where to next? With Ashes to Dust, his second album, Whitmore makes it clear that the answer is simply more of the same. Like the first offering, this release practices a stern folk minimalism, with Whitmore's whiskey gargle of a voice delivering slow-burning gospel sermons to the sparse accompaniment of banjo or guitar, and when the occasional electric slide guitar enters, it seems to come from the next century, so insular is the tone here. This is country music that is still attached at the hip to gospel and the stern Baptist church hymns that are tailored to the three-note vocal range of the everyman, and Whitmore's astounding voice makes it all stick in the mind like a cautionary tale. But while most of Ashes to Dust could fit seamlessly alongside Hymns for the Hopeless, there are some subtle differences that make this album at least a partial step farther down the road to redemption. Death is still the dominate force here, and it sits atop the sequence like a huge shadow in songs like "The Day the End Finally Came," "Diggin' My Grave," and "The Buzzards Won't Cry," but Whitmore has decided to embrace hope and love in the fiercely romantic "When Push Comes to Shove," the stunning train song "Lift My Jug (Song for Hub Cale)," and the masterful portrait of his farmer father that closes the album, "Porchlight." These three songs in particular lift the album out of its harrowing fascination with death and allow some light in on the proceedings. Redemption, Whitmore appears to be saying, just might be attainable in the here and now after all. Ashes to Dust is another powerful album from one of the brightest talents on the Americana scene, one who understands that country isn't about how you wear your hat, it's about how you handle the inevitable.
Performance CreditsWilliam Elliott Whitmore Primary Artist
Mike Lust E-bow
Bob Adams Drums
Joel Christopher Anderson Accordion,Slide Guitar
Jay Thomas Dandurand Drums
Zach Action Bass
Technical CreditsSamuel Beckett Author
Mike Lust Engineer
Jim Musser Author
William Elliott Whitmore Composer
Luke Tweedy Sculpture