If you’re a reader of this site, you’ll know that we absolutely LOVE Mr. Sean Whiting. His vocals are rarely matched. So given the opportunity to premiere his new album, ‘High Expectations’, we jumped at the opportunity! With this album, I don’t have to say a single word, because this album speaks volumes. This one hits on May 3rd through Eastwood Records in Louisville So without further ado, enjoy this absolute gem from the hills of Eastern Kentucky!
There must be something in the water of Johnson County, Kentucky. Known as the birthplace of such country titans as Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle and Chris Stapleton, the sweeping hills of eastern Kentucky continue to bear witness to music inventors. Americana singer-songwriter Sean Whiting is also a product of these humble roots and shines a light on the many phases of life with his upcoming sophomore record High Expectations.
10 songs born of the American dream, each as rugged as the next, Whiting’s new batch of music is fueled on a diet of blues music and Appalachian tradition. High Expectations was recorded inside Fat Baby Studios in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and boasts contributions from long-standing collaborators David Prince (guitar), Chris Justice (bass) and Hayden Miles (drums), all stalwart craftsmen who skillfully thread together gritty rock styles and swarthy Americana musicianship. All the while, Whiting stands at the eye of the storm with a rugged and weary power vocal.
“All these songs are different phases I’ve gone through,” he says. “It’s a good representation of my many moods, too. I’m learning to let go and finding out who I am finally. This album is me exploring different musical styles and myself.”
“Just the Same” is a barn-busting introduction. Whiting thrashes between the guitar’s gnarly scratches, wrapping around a story of clawing “out of a situation that you know you need to get out of,” he says. “But when you get out of it, it doesn’t necessarily matter. You’re still going to feel the same regardless.” The drums lick at his heels and gives the guitar lines even more license to pound against each other in menacing waves.
Such stylistic choices and devil-whipped grooves are the backbone of the album. “Top of the World,” “Misery” and “Harvest the Moon” are likewise buried underneath shovels of thick, smoky production, rock inflections and off-kilter vocal swirls. Whiting often punches hard in both timbre and phrasing but never at the cost of letting the lyrics rise and fall in sweeping emotional mists. He leans into the very gravel-torn nature of his voice to great effect, sometimes feeling unintentionally imperfect and scarred.
In between such explosive musical moments, he pivots with several offerings of intimate contemplation. “The Happy Song” ripples softly as an angelic, honest-to-goodness dedication to his wife. “I would have a lot harder time doing this if I didn’t have her,” he says of the song, which still allows him to howl at the moon as only he can. “Melody,” too, is lilting as a fresh handful of dogwood tree flowers on the wind.
Musically, Whiting has always been an avid student of the greats, from such rock trailblazers as the Allman Brothers and ZZ Top to country forebears like Hank Williams Jr. He was raised by a single mother and learned a great deal about music and live performance from his grandfather, who often towed him along to his own gigs and those of his contemporaries. Whiting began singing and playing drums at five years old, which opened the floodgates late for his fascination with the trumpet, and the guitar in his teens.
“My grandfather was the type of person who’d play anywhere,” he says. “It didn’t matter to him if he was playing in somebody’s garage or in a nice venue. I was the only grandchild and so I’d tag along. Many times, we’d have people over at home and be sitting and playing all these different instruments.”
Those early experiences, which included jam sessions to classic George Jones and Johnny Cash tunes, taught him the importance of tight-knit harmony work and layering of instruments. By the time he was 19, Whiting began a moderate career in local cover bands and played all across the tri-state area of Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. In doing so, he cut his teeth on what it meant to be a working musician.
You can catch Sean at the Music Rules Fest, which is our show with the Mountain Arts Center on May 11th! Pick up your tickets here.
But he wouldn’t release his first proper studio record, Finally the Beginning, until March 2017. “I’ve been making music for 20 years, but I’ve always had another job,” he says. A truck driver and a coal miner in his past lives, Whiting pulls that blue-collar sensibility into much of the new album, his first on Louisville’s Eastwood Records. In the aftermath of his mother’s death and losing his job in the coal industry, he decided to take the plunge and make music his full-time gig.
High Expectations thrives with a glorious spirit finally finding its way in the world. Even with “S.O.B.,” the album’s searing moment of unapologetic levity, he winds up a good time of traditional honky-tonk-bent country music with his undeniable charm and an intentionally over-the-top dosage of curse words. Whiting is as much a beacon of truth as those who came before him, harkening to much of Chris Stapleton’s work, as well as the Turnpike Troubadours and Loretta Lynn. But there’s an even more prominent edge to his lyrics than you might expect. He leaves you speechless one minute and singing along at the top of your lungs the next.