Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois will most likely end up to be my album of the year. So why am I starting a review on Denison Witmer with that statement? For one, Sufjan adds his voice, banjo, organ, Wurlitzer and backup players to Are You a Dreamer?, a magnificent album from a talented singer / songwriter from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Witmer assisted Stevens by opening for him and playing with the band on his Michigan tour, introducing many like-minded fans to his soothing, laid back, acoustic neo-folk.
Are You a Dreamer? is Witmer’s sixth album (who knew?), and is surely his most accomplished. With friends on board like Stevens, the Peris duo from Innocence Mission, and others, the album benefits from wizened guidance. Witmer’s voice is just as soothing as his music, at times recalling Elliott Smith without probing the depths of pain and suffering in Smith’s work. Witmer’s style is more akin to artists like James Taylor, Cat Stevens or Jackson Browne, confessional and emotional without being too dramatic, and with a professional sheen that makes the songs feel like part of a long lost canon.
Tracks like the opener “Little Flowers” and the title track shine, straddling the boundaries between folk / pop / and country. One gets the sense in listening to Witmer that these songs come into his head fully formed, that there is no conscious effort to blend styles, that his music is a style unto itself, much like Sufjan’s. The name Sufjan will bring people, like it did me, to Witmer’s work, but it is Witmer who will win them over as lifelong fans.
Sufjan Stevens- Michigan
Jackson Browne- Late for the Sky
Cat Stevens- Teaser and the Firecat