Gorgeous in the best definition of that word. Delicious in the best definition… If music was ice cream then this would be my flavour.
When my Granny Stockman, “Annie Meta Luke from Ahoghill” as she called herself, told me not to go looking for women who wore make up and big false eye lashes, she certainly hung her rural conservative north Antrim values out there. I laughed at her old traditional ways but to be fair she could also have been describing Janice, who I finally did marry. She’d have been pretty pleased.
She could also have been describing Denison Witmer’s music.
I have written before how just three piano chords into his short live set at Calvin College’s Festival Of Faith and Music in 2003 I was in love with this sparse sound. Everything Denison does is so spacious, so utterly pure and unadorned.
Denison’s art doesn’t need make up or those false eyelashes. It is as beautiful as it can get without any need to decorate. When percussion breaks in on San Francisco it almost seems to apologise. All you need is that voice, the melodies and Witmer’s simple but profound words. The rest is the frailest of a framework for the songs to hang, with near perfect skin.
American Foursquare is a record that my Granny might have related to. After a couple of decades in the big city of Philadelphia, Denison and his wife and two children relocated to his small hometown of Lancaster PA. After ten albums a couple of eps and a live record Denison stepped back from the industry’s push and pull and constant travelling to settle close to family and gave up the wood of his acoustic guitar to make things out of wood as a carpenter.
These songs record that experience. This is a record about home life. There are love songs to his wife. Birds Of Virginia is a wonderful love song. Rock music is okay with love songs. Songs about the children not so much. Witmer’s genius even allows him to transcend all the sentimental quick sand of that most dangerous endeavour. Confident Sensitive Child and Robin succeed where so many have failed abysmally!
Don’t think that songs about washing dishes and doing the laundry are too domesticated for the big questions. Witmer’s unassuming genius is that he can in the deftest of poetry drop a big heavy death charge in the middle of a motionless lake that ripples out forever.
Take these lines from River of Music: -
We live in a difficult time
How do you want to live your life?
Where are you going to spend your love?
Isn’t that alone enough?
Or in Save Me From Myself, which could be the mission statement of everything Denison Witmer has ever written: -
In the modern age
My addictions have me caged
And the social posturing
I feel cynical and vain
Set the needle down on American Foursquare if you want the gentlest of meditative sounds and something deep to meditate on. It is utterly beautiful in the best definition of that word.