Fifteen years into his musical career, Denison Witmer has recorded a self-titled album, his most direct statement to date. In a world obsessed with “branding” and constructed media personas, he chose to call his tenth album Denison Witmer because “I started thinking about the implications of what it’s like to work in an industry where I operate under my own name,” Denison explains. “And my ultimate goal as a musician is to be honest with people, first and foremost.”
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This honesty is the hallmark of Denison’s songwriting: personal lyrics, lack of pretense, and complex acoustic guitar work, mixed with gentle ambience and patient production. With help from William Fitzsimmons, label-mate Sufjan Stevens, and Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Amos Lee), Witmer crafts songs that have depth, but are easily accessible, with a lyric honesty that resonates with fans. “Keep Moving Brother, Keep Moving Sister” reflects Denison’s decision to self-title the album: “I consider my name / the one I’m given and the one I became / and the difference between hangs inside the stars my love.” “Keep Moving” is a light and encouraging anthem: a dreamy melody that floats gracefully over the interplay between sparse drums, a rhythmic bass line, and cyclic electric guitar. The tender, gospel-inflected “Asa” is a tribute to Denison’s son, born in early 2012. “After we announced the name of our son, a close friend sent me Bry Webb’s song. My wife and I listened to it together in the hospital while holding our boy. The lyrics incorporate all of the many meanings of his name. I loved it and knew immediately I wanted to cover it.” “Take More than You Need” delicately explores the give-and-take of relationships. “It’s about the times in a relationship when you have more to offer than the other person, emotionally or physically. It’s about caring for others and letting yourself be cared for.” The song opens with two off-kilter guitars that slowly fall into time with one another, a metaphor for this balance of needs. Denison carefully builds the texture with the addition of electric guitar and mellotron (both performed by longtime friend Don Peris of The Innocence Mission).
Inspiration for Denison Witmer came from an unlikely source. Listening to the radio, Denison found himself moved by an interview with R.A. Dickey, the major league pitcher whose so-so start convinced him to switch to the difficult knuckleball (an inspiration Denison explores in the song “Made Out For This”). “The knuckleball is a kind of pitch that has absolutely no spin on it whatsoever,” Denison explains, “and you aim at a target, but you really have no idea where it’s going to go.” The learning curve first sent Dickey down to the minor leagues, then to the top of the majors, as he perfected his peculiar art. Denison’s own peculiar art—like throwing the erratic knuckleball—also means going against the grain, and trusting in forces beyond his control.
A composer of subtle, deeply sincere albums in the era of instant mp3s, he wrote this album partly about learning to accept the person, and the artist, he finds himself becoming. “This is the turning point for me,” he says. “Even though it’s late in my career, I can feel something moving.”
- "Unhurried and delicate even in stark relief, Witmer's songs slowly reveal nuanced melodies that pull you close to savor each perfect chord and turn of a phrase." Direct Current
- "...Finds its loophole with sheer sincerity and lyrical intelligence. " Bowlegs
- "It's a beauty. (8/10)" Uncut