By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Thursday, June 7, 2007
Published online at

William Elliott Whitmore
William Elliott Whitmore | Barry Gilbert
Musical diversity was the goal set and met for the first night of Twangfest 11 on Wednesday, which featured three acts with styles ranging from Gothic soul to barroom Americana to hypnotic indie rock.

An enthusiastic crowd packed into the second floor of the Tap Room for St. Louis’ annual roots-music festival, which continues through Saturday night at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room. Each artist had a healthy contingent of fans, a good sign for a lineup of acts that are critics’ favorites if not mainstream brands.

Even the least-known artist, opener William Elliott Whitmore, had fans shouting out the titles of his raw, haunting, Gothic country blues – and feeding him a series of whiskey shots. Whitmore, decked out in a pork pie hat and tattoos, accompanied himself on banjo or guitar, and a strong left boot for percussion.

“I’m from (upriver) in Lee County, Iowa,” he told the crowd, “and I got a thing for the river towns. So I appreciate you sharing this time with me.”

In a gravelly voice reminiscent of Tom Waits’ but better, Whitmore stomped and hollered through set of songs filled with ghosts, sinners and losers fighting for redemption. Killers walked “From the Cell oor to the Gallows”; farmers battled nature when the earth went “Dry”; and the dead rested – or not – each in their “Pine Box.” Whitmore, who had performed only originals to this point, then closed with a surprising cover of Bill Withers’ soul classic “Ain’t No Sunshine,” followed by another original: an a capella “hymn for the body that’s grown weary” titled “Cold and Dead.”


At the other end of the spectrum was headliner Centro-Matic of Denton, Texas, a prolific band of excellent musicians who have taken their dense, transfixing sound from unpolished to blinding over the past decade.

Ed Anderson (left) and brother Matt of Backyard Tire Fire | Barry Gilbert

Centro-Matic headlines the first night of Twangfest 11. | Barry Gilbert
Guitarist-singer-songwriter Will Johnson with drummer Matt Spence and multi-instrumentalists Scott Danbom and Mark Hedman performed about a dozen tunes, several from their new EP “Operation Motorcide” and last year’s CD “Fort Recovery.”

Marked by heavily chorded guitars and anchored by Spence, Centro-Matic eschews choruses to weave an often dreamy wall of sound and voices, flavored occasionally with violin and piano. Whether ballads or rockers such as the fine “Patience for the Ride,” Centro-Matic had their fans swaying.

Connecting the night was Bloomington, Ill.’s wonderfully named Backyard Tire Fire. Everything you need to know is evoked by the images in that name.

Singer-songwriter Ed Anderson fronts this trio, which includes his brother Matt on bass and Tim Kramp on drums, and incorporates influences from the Band to ZZ Top in its appealing mix of down-home tunes. The band looks the part, too, like they just hopped out of their pickups at the feed store.

BTF started off somewhat soft, emphasizing acoustic guitar and sibling harmonies on tunes such as “Up & Down” from their CD “Barroom Semantics” before Anderson cranked up with slide guitar on “Gray Sky Blues.”

A highlight of the set was the pairing of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Black Rose,” with its perfect line “the devil made me do it the first time, the second time I done it on my own,” with Anderson’s ironic ballad “Trying to Get Paid.”