If there’s going to be another James Taylor, John Whitaker may very well be him. The guy who used to front The Middle Men has that voice from the cosmos, the melted meat-and-cheese sandwich of undeniably mannish baritone and svelte croon. His songs are folksy but not folk, informed as much by bent rock ’n’ roll structures as the classic ranters above meddlesome acoustic guitar pickings.
Take the pair of tunes on Whitaker’s Web site (www.johnwhitaker.net) as a representative sample: “Carolina,” a full-band arrangement of a singer-songwriter number, and “SOKY Fair.” These two songs kind of do the whole two-sides-of-the-same-coin thing, working as an extremely abridged version of Whitaker’s career as a solo artist.
“SOKY Fair” has a delivery about as intense as any acoustic song could hope for. Whitaker alternates between a calm speak-sing and a near shout that hangs the listener on each lyric, some of which amble into meta-textual postmodernism with their self-awareness. The chorus asks Does anybody listen to this song?, and after a lengthy bridge, Whitaker sings My guitar’s out of tune again, and then Baby, here’s your refrain, before going back to the chorus.
Whitaker’s wit in songwriting surely showed in his work with The Middle Men as well, but next Monday will be a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of this artist in his solo element when he opens for Josh Ritter at Headliners. It is not to be missed. Whitaker recently took a few minutes for LEO’s Five Important Questions.
LEO: If you were Mayor, what would you do to help promote people like you in this city?
John Whitaker: You can’t make people listen to music. Unless the mayor holds a big festival in my honor, he can’t do much for my career. But he can help the arts by supporting places for young folks to express themselves. If it’s music or theater or visuals, the most important thing he can do is help young kids realize that they have the power to do what they want to do. Art is nothing more than possibilities.
LEO: Which Louisville musician needs to get more attention?
JW: No one is doing what they do over at the Cut Family Foundation (www.thecutfamilyfoundation.com). Funk on demand. Nullus cantus inauditus.
LEO: If music were food, what kind would yours be?
JW: I’ve recently switched to a much healthier diet. You know, that whole shopping on the periphery of the grocery store. No aisles. It simultaneously makes me feel older for worrying and younger for eating. We are nothing if not our contradictions.
LEO: Tell me about one of your favorite works of art aside from your medium.
JW: I remember eating a white chocolate torte covered in a mango sauce about four years ago. It was the first time I realized that food can be taken to such a higher level. Someone assembled all these ingredients, made them pretty on a plate, and then this dessert changed flavors as I ate it. I mean, you think it up, you cook it up, you destroy it, and then you do it all again the next day. That’s wonderful.
LEO: What do you want to say that you know you shouldn’t?
JW: Man, I have always hated Jane’s Addiction.
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