WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE Field Songs (Anti-)
“Field Songs” is almost like the younger, still idealistic brother to Gillian Welch’s “The Harrow & The Harvest”, the simple, unclouded sunshine to the latter’s complex shade. An album outside of time – the cover photograph, entitled “Haying, 1947”, might give a clue to its mise-en-scène, but there’s little here that couldn’t be confidently placed half a century either side of that. Bookended and bound together by sounds of nature (birdsong, rivers, insects and livestock), these eight songs are instrumented chiefly by Whitmore’s husky, razorwire voice, acoustic guitar and banjo. There’s an optimistic, blue-collar feeling here, celebrating the honest, simple joys of hard work, the soundscape so Guthrie-esque that it heightens the shock and impact of those few songs that use electricity and percussion.
“Let’s Do Something Impossible” permits a rare Google-able reference, including “Paris in 1943”, escaping “from Alcatraz just like Theodore Cole” and “when Custer comes over the hill”. “Get There From Here” unconsciously echoes R.E.M.’s “Can’t Get There From Here” in its title; without stating so implicitly, its protagonist seems to be considering fleeing across the Mexican border to find work, his reasoning becoming ever more hopeful and desperate as the song progresses: “To provide for my little ones I’ll do anything I can/Jump the fence, outrun the dogs and defy the laws of man”.
If it doesn’t reach the same otherworldly standard of awesomeness demonstrated by “The Harrow & The Harvest”, “Field Songs” is still a solid and enjoyable record, buoyed by an unpretentious but fine-sounding vinyl pressing.