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Denison Witmer - Recovered

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Artist: Denison Witmer

Album: Recovered

Label: Fugitive

Review date: Aug. 4, 2003

Covering Classics

What determines whether one artist's homage to another is a brand new interpretation or a bastardization? The Byrds made a name for themselves covering Dylan songs, while Husker Dü recorded what could be the definitive version of the Byrds' ode to inter-continent flight, "Eight Miles High". The thing about any collection of covers is that you get an insight into both the artists who covered the song and the song itself. Be it a lyric, melody or chord change, something should spark a desire to listen to the original and compare the two in the hopes of forming a connection or understanding.

Unfortunately, for the most part, covers fail to strike the same chord and instead just regurgitate the sentiment of the original. Yo la Tengo, Cat Power and Nick Cave have shown that an album made entirely from interpretations of others songs can be a rewarding listen, and Denison Witmer can be added to that list. For all the arguments to be made about cover versions, Graham Nash (via Witmer) says it best, "I am a simple man / and I sing a simple song". Witmer has taken some classics and some personal favorites, rendering new outlooks by, among others, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen and Fleetwood Mac.

To be honest, Witmer has some big shoes to fill, and I'm sure the more devote acolytes to some of the artists covered may cry bloody murder, but those claims would be unjustified. Witmer walks a tightrope between reverence and adventure on Recovered. His take on Big Star's often-covered "Nighttime" is a pretty straight forward nod to the original, while his reworking of Gram Parsons' "Brass Buttons" adds a touch of the "urban cowboy" vibe that the Eagles made popular. At its heart, what makes Recovered enjoyable is Witmer’s choice of artists – each wrote great songs that can be reinterpreted in a multitude of styles. A perfect example is his take on Carole King's "So Far Away", in which he turns a jazz-pop classic into a lonely synthesizer dirge while still maintaining the original’s sense of regret and sadness.

Witmer seems more than comfortable within the singer/songwriter pantheon and it’s not hard to imagine the many hours he spent studying these artists and songs. However, as interesting and well-executed as Recovered may be, it's still a collection of other’s songs. As Nick Cave and Cat Power did before, Witmer might have waited until he developed his own voice before relying on the work of others to sustain an entire album.

By Paul Burress

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