John Whitaker
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John Whitaker

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En America se encuentran muchos cantantes con visceralidad, de esos que convencen al instante, que te contagian su pasion, su energia, sus sentimientos. John Whitaker es capaz de hacerlo desde el primer segundo, pero sus cualidades no se quedan ahi estancadas, porque tiene el don de la composicion. Sus canciones son emocionales y diversas, pues saltan con brio del Power-Pop al sonido americana y guardan un buen reflejo de la tradicion sonora del Sur, aunque el procede de un lugar no exactamente definido como tal. En todo caso ya sabemos que siguen habiendo extraordinarios musicos todavia procedentes de Kentucky, sera por el bourbon? - Discos Amsterdam

"Time Keeps Marching On"

There's this saying I'm awfully fond of these days:

"Everything changes, isn't that terrible?
Everything changes, isn't that wonderful?"

Louisville singer/songwriter/ambassador of the high-five John Whitaker enters a new phase of his career with his third album, Leave It With Your Airplanes (Debauchery Records), a record concerned with transitions and the mystery of relationship-driven life cycles.

The record kicks off with "Progress," an interstate-driving anthem crying for clarity, then shifts into "Time or Season," a jangly, tender plea that highlights the album's twitching nervous system: behind the hand claps, finger snaps and pleasingly viral melodies lies the inevitable press of time, as Whitaker considers forces outside his own head and heart and diagrams the tension between the frustrations of youth and the wry knowledge that can only come with experience.

Like most successful songwriters, Whitaker uses complex relationships to frame the big questions. In the jaunty "Modern Girl," he reminds us in one breath that "it's just sex and death, you see / carry them out to the nth degree," only to finish with a stern admonition: "storms brewing up / and your life is long." Best get moving, kids.

From his shrugging bewilderment in "Nothing" ("as far as I can tell") to the straight-up shout out to Saint Paul's "IOU" at the end of "Focus" ("I want it in writing / I owe you nothing") to his howl of "I want everything, everything, everything" in "Shoot It All Again," Whitaker confronts the duality of desire with humor, wisdom and wonder. Staying true to himself, he chooses to participate, playing through the pain to find those moments of beauty we must live for. For all its Westerbergian cynicism, "Focus" remains cinematically sexy and sweet, following a couple across the dance floor and into bed with the grateful bewilderment that accompanies an amazing, if conflicted, night.

Throughout the record, Whitaker's own growing self-knowledge and -acceptance becomes apparent as he stares down the barrel of manhood, with all its certain missteps and tentative victories -- wincing, sure, but never backing down, to his great satisfaction. You can feel his shocked joy in "Underground," which starts with a tentative, "hello? hello?" and ends with a cry of, "I'm still alive!"

It's that refusal to stare at his shoes and mumble into his sleeve that makes Whitaker a distinct and important American voice, calling out hopefully into the dark, forever believing he will be answered.

You can echo back your own throbbing heartache and blinding love Friday night at the Rudyard Kipling, as he celebrates the release of Leave It With Your Airplanes. He'll have a whole mess of talented folks playing with him -- including former Middle Men and current Cut Family Foundation members Matts Brewington and Hendricks, the lovely and talented Brigid Kaelin and Shawna Dellecave, and oh so many more -- and a smile for you as deadly and wide as the filthy, glorious Ohio River. 10 p.m., kids. See you there? - Velcoity Weekly by Erin Keane

"All Grown Up"

John Whitaker wrote his first song at age 13 — for a girl, of course — and never stopped, or even slowed. He made two records before graduating from high school, precocious little numbers on cassette, and has just released his third as an adult.

"Leave It With Your Airplanes," on Debauchery Records, is by far Whitaker's most assured, emotionally compelling work. It's also the first album on which he's written extensively about his life and the lives of his friends, as opposed to the clever third-person wordplay he favored when fronting The Middle Men.

"It took me a long time to realize that writing personal songs didn't mean that they were confessional, and I really don't like those guys who put music to their diaries," said Whitaker, a hyperkinetic 29. "I was really coy and not very sure of myself in my younger years, and so the songwriting process has changed, and I think that stands out on the album.

"I looked around at my friends and they've got boyfriends and girlfriends, and then they got married, and now some folks have gotten divorced. What is that? How did that work? ... This is adult world. These are real issues."

Whitaker and a huge cast of friends/musicians worked on "Leave It With Your Airplanes" for nearly a year, recording much of it in his apartment. This was a classic good news-bad news scenario. It gave Whitaker complete freedom to chase his muse even as he battled his twittery neuroses — it took him weeks, and many late-night calls to friends, before he could decide on an album title.

It's a smallish miracle that the thing was even finished. "You listen to it on your iPod before going to bed and think everything is too fast, and then you listen when you wake up and everything sounds too slow," he said. "You just learn to trust yourself."

Trust is the album's theme, from the writing process to its subject matter to the recording. It continues post-album. Instead of following the usual route of touring in a van until despair or album sales ensue, Whitaker is moving to Spain next month.

"Because it's an adventure, my friend," he offered as explanation. "I'm 29, not married, no kids. And I have someone in Spain who wants to put the album out there. So why not?"

That makes tonight's CD-release show mandatory.

- Courier Journal by Jeffrey Lee Puckett

"Five Questions"

John Whitaker 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 ( 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 ( 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.
- LEO Weekly


Leave It With Your Airplanes (2008)
Three Short Acts (2004) (fronting The Middle Men)
So Foul and Fair a Day (2001)



John Whitaker is that little voice you hear around midnight whispering in your ear. His quirky heartfelt songs are full of the thoughts that keep us awake at night. They're songs of hope and doubt, of yearning and fulfillment. More than anything, John's songs are a celebration, a musical high-five, a simple gesture that lets us know we are not alone in the world.

John's new album, Leave It With Your Airplanes, focuses on transitions. By turns celebratory and mournful, Leave It With Your Airplanes is a testament to the human ability to adapt. The album features numerous guest musicians and was recorded at various spots around the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

John's third album is his most personal yet. "I used to be afraid of talking about things that I saw happening in my life, in my friends, in my family. It took a little time to realize that writing personal songs didn't equal some sort of confessional, let me put music to my diary experience."

John transmits a contagious passion at his live shows. Whether playing with just his guitar or a full band, he wins new converts at every gig. He has shared the stage with folks like My Morning Jacket, Josh Ritter, Scott Miller, Mason Jennings, Todd Snyder, Richmond Fontaine, Amigos Imaginarios, and a host of others.