Album Review: Denison Witmer – The Ones Who Wait




This isn’t Denison Witmer’s first time around the calming, sometimes somber, always quiet neo-folk block he’s been circling for the past 17 years. He released his first cassette (yes, cassette) in 1995, and The Ones Who Wait is his ninth album (the first put out by Asthmatic Kitty, which was co-founded by Witmer’s frequent collaborator Sufjan Stevens).

While Witmer has always aired on the honest, personal side of singing and songwriting, The Ones Who Wait drives the Pennsylvania native’s intimacy to a new level with content that centers on life, death, and relationships. In his own words, the album is about “patience and reverence … being mindful and open to what you’re experiencing.”

Inspired by his father’s battle with cancer and passing, The Ones Who Wait bounces between darkness and hope, loss and survival. The first track, “Hold On”, expresses the cyclical and uncontrollable nature of life with lines like, “How a father always starts out as a son/ how sometimes you’re both/ sometimes you’re only one.” The album’s sound doesn’t vary drastically throughout, and the opening establishes a melodic tone reminiscent of ‘70s-era singer/songwriter warmth, despite the sometimes gloomy subject matter.

Witmer enlisted the help of fellow musicians who have previously collaborated with the likes of Bon Iver, Rufus Wainwright, Amos Lee, and Norah Jones to create this 11-track album. Sufjan Stevens also helped on the record, and this is obvious on one of the best tracks, “Influence”. A folky, upbeat banjo makes the song one of the album’s only tunes that is perfect for driving with the windows down or taking a trip to “where the water turns blue.”

Witmer has also grown musically, as heard on the climactic “Every Passing Day”, which builds beautifully into a grand release of heavier instruments and harmonies. But the sparse yet skillful guitarpicking that we’ve seen over the course of his expansive career shines on the quieter “Every Passing Day”.

He isn’t new at this, but after dealing with the death of his father, joining yet another record label, and starting a new chapter as a father, Witmer’s music has clearly evolved. This is his best album to date, and his fans should be pleased to know that part two is right around the corner.

Essential Tracks: “Life Before Aesthetics”, “Influence”, and “Every Passing Day”