William Elliott Whitmore is one of those distinctly blessed vocalists who can feel comfortable knowing that no matter what changes he makes, in sound or lyrics or image, the focus will always remain on his voice. This is far from a bad thing, because Whitmore’s baritone is a magnificent, even frightening instrument, impossibly thick and husky, deep and somber in a defiantly ageless manner. Animals in the Dark befits this quality by fleshing his voice out with heavier backing than Whitmore is used to, providing a punch that if not equal to his growl at least doesn’t back down from it. Other songs are more traditional, banjo and rural acoustic blues steeped heavily in the Iowa farm country that has become his milieu. In both cases, his voice leads the material along, punching up the momentum of the heavier songs and providing an earthy low end for the simpler ones. Williams also expands his lyrical focus, taking on a political slant that finds him surpassing the limits of the pastoral and approaching more universal topics. There’s a definite preoccupation with the miscues of authority, from the swaggering temerity of “Johnny Law” to the straightforward anger of “Old Devils.” Whitmore’s targets are inclusive but clearly defined (the power-hungry and corrupt), and while he approaches this attack less than delicately, his commanding voice makes it all the more convincing. The convergence of these three elements—fiery political lyrics, booming voice, stormy backing of a full band—suit him, assuring that weaker moments, like the lyrics of “Mutiny,” never become overwhelming. Even in that case, the often puerile words are overridden by pounding bass, a marching snare line, and imperious assurance with which Whitmore delivers them, turning a potentially feeble song into one of the album’s best.
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