Music

Denison Witmer: Recovered

Andrew Gilstrap

Denison Witmer

Recovered

Label: Fugitive
US Release Date: 2003-06-10
Amazon
iTunes

Denison Witmer rightly received praise last year for Philadelphia Songs, a low-key effort that merged confessional lyrics and small-scale slices of geography. Witmer certainly wasn't the first to tell a tale amidst such detail and a concrete sense of place, but he deserves credit for the balance he achieved between person and place, and for pulling off the nifty trick of letting the details inform the disc's larger picture of romantic dissolution. At the same time, while Philadelphia Songs felt like it was written about one person, the sights and sounds of the city potentially make it universal for anyone who's shared similar experiences.

With Recovered, Witmer aims to shine some light on the source of that lyrical acumen. He already has to bat off comparisons to Elliott Smith like they were flies at a picnic, but that's as much for his vocal timbre and inherent pop sensibilities as anything else. Here, Witmer gives nods to some unlikely heroes from the annals of '70s soft rock: Carole King, Big Star, Jackson Browne, Gram Parsons, and others.

Thankfully, he goes for obscure pages of his heroes' catalogs; the world probably doesn't need another cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide", and obscure choices give Witmer's versions a better chance of standing on their own. Without the burden of a listener's internal classic rock station to play compare/contrast at every turn, these songs fit neatly and quietly into the subtle acoustic pop niche that Witmer's already carved for himself. Fleetwood Mac's "Songbird" probably fares the best of anything on Recovered; Christine McVie's original vocal melody adapts well to Witmer's smooth croon, and the addition of cello accents over the song's gentle acoustic melody makes for a truly nice moment. Likewise, Witmer's acoustic rendition of Big Star's "Nightime" retains the familiar pop hook, and he shows a knack for Jackson Browne's vocal cadences on "Farther On". Each track retains fragments of the originals, but the originals aren't so well known that they tower over Witmer's creation.

At this point, it probably sounds like Witmer isn't doing much with these songs, and he's upfront in his liner notes that he didn't set out to reinvent the wheel. Reportedly, he was more interested in tipping his cap to some songwriting giants (some of whom he claims not to have discovered until after he began releasing his own records) and creating a distinct narrative flow. So you get Graham Nash's "Simple Man" leading to the brief-but-bright-doubt of Neil Young's "Love in Mind" to the poetic complexities of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" to the album-closing reflections of Browne's "These Days". As the songs get more complex and shadowed, Witmer's approach seldom wavers and, at little more than a half-hour, Recovered comes across very much like a personal performance by Witmer for himself.

Naturally, not all of Recovered works. His dirge-like arrangement of King's "So Far Away" adequately conveys a sense of road-weary longing, but Witmer's shadings of electronics fail to keep the song from dragging. Alternately, he quickens the pace of "Suzanne" to an awkward degree that feels fine during the song's full-band moments, but not during the acoustic intro (in fairness, Cohen may be the only person on the planet capable of pulling off this song's hypnotic Old World languor).

In the end, Recovered stands as an interesting but logical follow-up to Philadelphia Songs. Thus far, Philadelphia Songs is Witmer's watershed moment, and a disc like Recovered lets him record without trying to top himself ... just yet. It stands up pretty well on its own, and on a couple of cuts like "Love in Mind", "Songbird", and "Farther On", he even crafts worthy peers for the original recordings.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image