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   Monday, October 21, 2002  
Standards never less than maintained. To anyone who's up with Denison Witmer's ouput thus far, no further reassurance will be needed to prompt purchase of new album Philadelphia songs. For the unaware, the good news starts here...

Some keywords: plangent / hopeful / limpid / real / warm

Witmer is a 20-something singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania. His thing, if we can label, is contemporary folk-pop-rock with a faint dusting of any 'alt-' you care to choose. Philadelphia songs is his 3rd full-length release. All three share many qualities but, fundamentally, all are sheer class. The new album combines the clean, lean picking of superb debut Safe away with the mellow full-band sound that characterised Of joy & sorrow, a subtly superior sonic vibrancy taking things onwards and upwards. Much as before, this is emotional music as Witmer pores over his personal relationships, how things have worked out, the interconnectedness of people and places, stuff like that. In lesser hands this might come off as so much self-indulgent, bleeding-heart wimpery, but Witmer's aim is true. There's nothing pretentious or fake here. The tone is often quite sad but never bleak; hope is invariably just a chord change away. Witmer's brilliantly unshowy guitar work is umbued with the same reflective eloquence as his lyrics and the sure-footed arrangements hit the spot time and again.

Impressive opener Sets of keys kind of ecapsulates Witmer's stylistic range: fine acoustic guitar figure under the early verses, keys, bass and percussion flooding in halfway through and a frosting of guitar distortion at the close. Maybe the most obvious 'break-out' track here is chiming, hi-hat heavy 24 turned 25 which, at just 2 minutes, demonstrates (like This and that on the first album) Witmer's admirable concision. Many artists would've taken great tunes like this around the block at least once more, just because..well..that's what you do. Knowing what to leave out is just as fine an art. Leaving Philadelphia, craftily impelled by a half-a-beat delay within the guitar pattern, is the only wholly acoustic number here, it's spareness contrasting with next track Chestnut Hill's luscious full sound, to which this listener can muster no resistance (cf. Forgiven on album no.2).

Just about the only jarring note across Witmer's recordings to date is the club-footed honkytonk rhythm section on OJAS's Stations. Maybe it nagged at Denison too as it's gorgeously redrawn here with gliding slivers of lap steel and choice harmonies from Krista Yutzy-Burkey. She's one of a shifting cast of highly sympathetic players - including instrumental band The Six Parts Seven - who help to colour in Denison's compositions. (As too does the conspicuously lush packaging, Brady Sanders' photographic images of Philadelphia so glossily rendered as to seem freshly lifted from the developing tray.)

You may by now have gathered that DW is a bit of a star round these parts. At the moment it feels like the most exclusive of UK clubs but a quick trip to BurntToastVinyl and you can be in. Do it today; in fact, do it right now!

Still a distinctly cult-ish alt-folk figure, it'll be v. interesting to see how many people Nina Nastasia draws to the Union Chapel on Dec 5...

...while, six days later, the Lyle Lovett's 'special guest' at the Barbican [Beyond Nashville] will be Caitlin Cary. Best of all, she's then doing a free set on the 'club stage' at 11pm.

Catch up with ex-pat countryfried rockers Minibar in interview and extended live session last week at KCRW Los Angeles...
   posted by SMc at 9:16 AM |