Washington State singer/songwriter Beth Whitney captures the spaciousness of her Pacific Northwest home and bottles it into the soundscape of her latest album, Into the Ground. Folk at its core, it grabs your attention with its sonic and stylistic twists. Released today, the 11-track album is a follow up to Whitney’s 2017 record, The Wild Unrest, and continues her exploration of both the feelings hidden in of the shadows of the world and the light of hopefulness.
With the mesmerizing opener, “Wild Roses,“ Whitney lets us know that she didn’t set out to make traditional singer/songwriter fare. Instead, we start with a track loaded with dark cello and a vocal hum that feels inspired by both new age and progressive rock influences. It has a unique sound—not just compared to the rest of the tracks on the album, but in a much broader sense across the folk and Americana genres.
While nothing sounds quite like “Wild Roses“ on the remainder of Into the Ground, she continues to push boundaries on the rest of the album. Whitney often tiptoes a fine line where you could absolutely envision each track being showcased at AmericanaFest or Newport Folk Festival, but feel like they could be a bit poppy in their sound for traditionalists. A prime example is the outstanding “Wild Horse,“ that features enough folk-pop-country inspired sounds that it would fit right in with Taylor Swift’s recent, more mature style. “Whole Heart“ has a similar popicana vibe both in presentation and its hooky refrains that just beg to be scream-sung by a crowd now that concerts are returning.
Later in the album “Thunder,“ (which rivals “While Roses“ as the standout track) feels powerful thanks to well placed eruptions of electric guitar, piano, and drums. However, Whitney’s gentle-yet-confident vocal delivery and the strummed acoustic guitar make it feel intimately vulnerable. Another unique sounding track, it inspires one of most original comparisons this publication has ever made: imagine if you took one of Billie Eilish’s slow-ballad tracks, added a touch of Courtney Marie Andrews’s powerful-yet-raw vocal quality, and topped it off with an occasional touch of guitar twang.
“I Go“ is straight-up vocal-forward folk. It has a lovely richness thanks to the addition of vocals from singers Gina Belliveau and Brittany Alvis. The trio of voices give us one of the album’s most traditional singer/songwriter pop-folk work, but still feels like it has a modern touch. While you may notice slight differences between each singer’s vocal tracking that makes them feel distant from each other, the vocals themselves still make this song a strong offering. One final surprise on the album is Whitney’s cover of “Shelter From the Storm.“ It can be a risky venture covering Bob Dylan, but Whitney pulls it off in style. It’s often a cliché to say that an artist “made a cover her own,“ but that is exactly what Whitney did here, both with the banjo-led melody and by making the lyrics feel personal to her.
The more you listen to Into the Ground, the more you appreciate Beth Whitney’s bold approach to folk music. There’s a layer of comfort thanks to the traditional elements we look for in an Americana album: moving lyrics, a little rock, an occasional touch of twang in the guitar, and stirring vocals. However, Whitney’s nuanced use of pop influences makes it distinct, welcomingly expanding the realm of Americana.
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Featured Image of Beth Whitney by Eratosthenes Fackenthall