Whenever William Elliott Whitmore returns to Spokane, it feels like home to the charismatic singer-songwriter. When Whitmore was cutting his teeth as a songsmith 20 years ago, he spent considerable time in Spokane on bills with indie rockers Self Inheritance.
“Those were the days,” Whitmore said while calling from his Montrose, Iowa, home. “I would play banjo performing country music, and Self Inheritance would go onstage and really rock. We had the best times mostly playing a garage in some neighborhood in Spokane. When I look back at Spokane, it’s like a second home.”
Whitmore played country but came of age on the road in a punk rock scene. “It was a cool and beautiful thing traveling across the country,” Whitmore said. “I particularly enjoyed Spokane since the people are so nice there, and even though it’s a much bigger town than where I’m from here in Iowa, I know a lot of the time bands skipped playing there and opted to play in Seattle.
“They would travel down I-90 on the way to Seattle, and they missed out. I get it. I had to travel to see bands when I was growing up here on my family farm.” Iowa City was the destination for the teenage Whitmore during the early 1990s. “I would drive there to see the Smoking Popes and the Violent Femmes back in the day,” Whitmore recalled. “It’s a two-hour drive, but it was worth it to see the bands I loved.”
Whitmore, who performs with a banjo and a bass drum, could have left Montrose, but it’s home. “I love it here on this farm,” Whitmore said. “I write what I feel and what I know here. Ever since I started playing guitar, I started writing poetry. I like taking metaphors from nature. I take what I see outside my window, the dogs and the horses and put it into song.”
It’s an approach that has inspired Whitmore to craft eight albums, including his latest, “I’m With You,” which was released last October. His latest cuts, which will be showcased Saturday at Lucky You Lounge, are gritty, intense and often melancholy Americana.
The moving “Everything We Need” is a sonic slap in the face, which sounds as if it was crafted after the pandemic commenced. “That song is about getting perspective, but it was written well before COVID changed our lives,” Whitmore said. “I was thinking about everything that was really important to me.”
Whitmore’s 16-month-old daughter Jesse is at the top of his list. “There’s nothing like being a parent,” Whitmore said. “It changes everything.” “Black Iowa Dirt,” a moving tribute to his hometown, is one of the most powerful tracks Whitmore has written. “That song was written 20 years ago, but it never made it on a record,” Whitmore said. “It was time for that song to land on an album.
“It’s about where I come from. We have this rich dirt here from living right off the Mississippi River. The dirt was brought here by the glaciers, and we have this beautiful black dirt. I joke a bit in the song about how I put the black dirt in my tea and on my biscuit, but the song is about the pride I have for my home and where I’m from. One day, I’ll be in that dirt. You can put that dirt right over me.”
“Black Iowa Dirt” was written around when Whitmore spent considerable time in Spokane. “I have so many great memories of that time,” Whitmore said. “Every time I go back to Spokane, it just feels comfortable. It’s a cool place more people should know about.”
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