Understanding the state of Iowa that William Elliott Whitmore calls home is key to describing the man who released 2006's Song of the Blackbird—a smokey banjo-heavy soul record for the indie set. Iowa is the state that I also call home, and the state where all political pundit eyes focus on every election year—and as it turns out lately, the year leading up to an election. Most outsiders see Iowa as an unspectacular piece of land locked between fields of corn and more fields of corn. Oh, there's corn here all right. You can't miss it. You may be hearing about it and its popular byproduct lately, with all of that foreign dependence on oil going on. Some farmers gonna become millionaires, y'all.
Whitmore lives on a plot of land down the Mississippi River, in southeastern Iowa, where the fishing and hunting are good, where the salt of the earth is entrusted. He's in the midst of finishing a cabin that he has built out of an old corncrib. It's sitting on a piece of dirt that's belonged to his family for decades and decades. His cousins and aunts and uncles live just over the fence line and he's got a pet mule that is named after the old show Grizzly Adams. He has fingernail picks like the ones you see Bob Dylan carrying around. He usually has a whiff of life lived, three days of honest work and the smoke from a wood-burning stove. His banjo is a clunker that is rusty, but true and able to express the ridiculously rich soul of a man who makes other men look like they're just not trying. Those who see the unspectacular in the landscape of Iowa or in the nightlife opportunities of the Hawkeye State should look to Whitmore's brilliant tales of hardship and beauty for proof that they are utterly mistaken.
It's usually said that beauty's in the eye of the beholder, and true as that may be it can also be in the eye of those listening to the beholder. You'll believe that there's more to the dark, black Iowa dirt, and there's more to that song of the blackbird that wakes Whitmore up every morning in his cabin that doesn't have any electricity or a commode. Get to know this guy. He'll make you feel warm. He might even invite you to his farm for a bonfire.