Album Review: Middle Western — When Your Demons are Underground and You’ve Got to Dig Them Up

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Middle Western

When Your Demons are Underground and You’ve Got to Dig Them Up

When long-time Iowa City scene staple Dave Zollo and Lee County troubadour William Elliott Whitmore started performing together a couple years ago as Middle Western with members of Zollo’s band The Body Electric and Chicago guitarist Stevie Doyle, it seemed a natural fit.

“Those guys and I have done dozens of shows on the same bill, and after a while we started doing songs together on stage,” Whitmore explained in an email. “We’d been scheming to start a band that was separate from our solo gigs for a long time and it finally jived up.”

Their debut album, When Your Demons are Underground and You’ve Got to Dig Them Up, was tracked with Luke Tweedy at Flat Black Studios and comes out on limited-edition vinyl on March 20. The record is eight captured-in-the-moment tracks of seasoned barstool blues. The driving boogie of “Off The Rails” is a take-no-shit finger to the chest: “Just because you’re young don’t mean you’re innocent/From the mouths of babes/I heard outlandish tales.”

The freightcar of Stones-y swagger in “Wasn’t For Nothing” seems dangerously close to jumping the tracks in its all-too-short three minutes. Whitmore’s signature whiskey-and-cigarettes voice turns to a rockin’ hoarse yelp on “You know it wasn’t for nothin’!/It wasn’t no stupid game!/Every road leads to somethin’/I know I have my own damn self to blame!”

But, more than the blistering slide and lead guitars and the driving rhythms sure to spill a few pints on the dance floor, the album has an honest soulfulness. It wraps up with “Byron Leftwich” an epic eight-minute masterpiece of regret, loss and hope. The building harmony vocals singing “falling down again” coupled with Zollo’s impassioned, “Gonna get back up and make my way to you/I’m gonna get back up and try to make amends” are guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat.

The mantle of “super group” is often overused, but in this case the proof is documented on When Your Demons … The combined singing and songwriting efforts of Zollo and Whitmore — each wrote and takes lead on half the tunes — mixed with one of the best bands around show what can happen when you get the formula right. Super group, indeed.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 239.

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