A legend returns


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mp3 sample: William Elliott Whitmore

"Old Devils"

When William Elliott Whitmore steps onto an Iowa City stage, toting tattoo covered arms, a banjo, and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, he feels at home.

“The shows, man, they are always just so damn fun,” he said. “I can look out and see people I know, and it feels like a family.”

Whitmore and Jenny Hoyston will perform under the name Hallways of Always on Saturday at the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave., at 8 p.m. Admission is $10.

The show features three parts. Hoyston, an electronic artist from Portland, begins with a solo set before Whitmore and other musicians join her as the band Hallways of Always, playing its 2006 self-titled EP in full. Whitmore will then perform solo, stomping his foot and pounding his banjo to close out the night.

The Hallways of Always project emerged in California when Hoyston and Whitmore both lived in a punk-rock square house in Oakland. Being fans of each other’s genre, the two fused to form a blend of country and electronica.

“It was a chance for each of us to do something different,” Whitmore said. “When we started writing songs, they ended up being these weird hybrids of both things. It’s just another part of my musical personality.”

Before recording with Hoyston, Whitmore’s love for Iowa drew him back to the Midwest — a small cabin on the farm he grew up on in Lee County. The two eventually met for a week and recorded a self-titled EP, but because of his move and Hoyston staying on the West Coast, Hallways of Always never had a concert.

Despite that lack, critics responded well to the collaboration. Host of KRUI’s local music show “Corn-Fed Music,” Whitmore fan John Schlotfelt points to the opposite styles of each artist as a reason for the album’s success. Schlotfelt is a former DI reporter.

“I think there’s these two pulls [from different genres] that meet so nicely in the middle, and the whole album does that,” he said.

Now, four years after the original EP release, the band is not only performing live for the first time, which Whitmore calls a “once in a lifetime show,” but is re-recording its original EP — and additional songs — for a full-length, vinyl release he hopes will drop in April.

“The physical copy of the record is important,” Whitmore said. “For one thing, a song doesn’t sound the same on an MP3 that’s been squashed down to fit into your iPod through your little earbuds. It’s not the same as a spinning, vinyl, analog record on your turntable.”

The songwriter, who says he has between 5,000 and 6,000 vinyl records, said he believes a relationship occurs with a physical copy of music.

“Maybe as humans, we need to feel things,” he said. “When you pop on a record and you can look at the cover art and who played on the record and hold the jacket and dig on the art. It’s a whole ceremony, you know? And it gets you off your ass — you have to flip from side A to side B, so it makes music an interactive experience.”

Whitmore’s musical roots are in Iowa City — he originally begged local booking agents to let him open for major traveling acts. Now, the artist is on the ANTI- record label (with such acts as Tom Waits, Michael Franti & Spearhead, and the Swell Season), but he is still grateful for his Iowa City following.

“He’s Iowa’s own — a native son who comes back,” KRUI director Nathan Gould said. “He’s used as an example, almost a prototype, that music from Iowa City can reach beyond the Midwest and even internationally.”

And despite touring all over the world, Whitmore said he loves nothing more than Iowa and the Mississippi river.

“There’s just something magical about this place,” he said. “The Lakotas have the Black Hills, the Mormons got Nauvoo, Ill., and Salt Lake City, Utah, and I’ve got Lee County, Iowa.”

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