Album: Denison Witmer – American Foursquare review

by Philip Moss

From where music comes is one of life’s big questions. Songwriters can enter the most compelling, thought provoking periods in their life and, yet, the bird of song doesn’t fly into the room. Even Bob Dylan and John Prine have stated how they wouldn’t ever sit to purposely write a song – they either came, seemingly in a dreamlike magic, or they didn’t. For Denison Witmer though, it was in the mundanities of normal, every day life that he stumbled back across the muse – seven years on since his last self titled collection.

Home is where the heart is, they say. And the American Foursquare story began following Witmer’s move from Philadelphia back to his place of birth – Lancaster, PA. The opening title track sees the Pennsylvania native finding beauty in the simple things after leaving the hustle and bustle of the big city – his neighbours complementing his garden and his delight at living just three blocks from his brother – which, set to soft strings and a looping acoustic melody, is all told through Witmer’s lullaby voice.

The album’s most immediate four and half minutes come in the shape of the gentle, spaciousness of piano based Catalina Love, as Witmer turns the death of a friend’s four month old baby into a truly beautiful tribute. Elsewhere, the 43 year old duets with Abby Gundersen on the Paul Simon-esque, family inspired Confident Sensitive Child, while the glorious metaphor of River of Music perhaps best documents how he gave himself to the subconscious flow of inspiration, which saw him collate a body of thematic work.

Through a blog post titled Fatherhood Hiatus, Witmer references the Patti Smith quote – ‘I have abandoned so many projects but in the ’80s when I left public life to be married and have real children, I love my children and I would never sacrifice them for anything, I had to find a way to simultaneously be a mother and wife and fulfill my duties and still be true to myself as a writer’ – as helping him to realise that finding a balance between being present with his young family and his art was important. And in being present, the muse for this special record returned not just closer to home, but at home.

Secret Meeting score: 83

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