By AARON RICHARDSON
The big problem with going to see shows in bars is that you always walk away with a $15 CD by an artist whose set you can’t remember and whose music you wind up hating.
Combining alcohol, live music and a merch table is a well-known dirty trick and I had been pretty good about avoiding it. That is until I saw Dension Witmer at the Loft last month.
This time though, I bought the CD not because I was in a wallet-draining stupor, but because I was genuinely intrigued by what I had heard. Witmer is a singer-songwriter who grew up a Mennonite in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His music is reminiscent of Elliott Smith’s melodious acoustic-guitar driven work.
In concert, Witmer is typical indie singer-songwriter material. He punctuates songs with timid humor and stories of the origins of certain tracks. Witmer looks shy, hunched over and straining to reach over a dreadnaught-style Martin acoustic.
Add a too-tight t-shirt and zip hoodie to the mix, and you get an uncanny likeness to a 16 year-old high-school outcast.
Witmer is on tour to promote his latest album “Carry the Weight.” Witmer’s work on “Carry the Weight” is pure sulky, introspective folk. Listening to the record is at times uplifting, but its general sentiment is loneliness and longing.
On the title track Witmer asserts “I’m not afraid to say I don’t know,” which pretty accurately sums up how I feel about “Carry the Weight.”
On the one hand, Witmer’s tunes are beautifully arranged across the board. Not once during the album does his musicianship get lazy and each track is as hauntingly beautiful as the one before it. The trouble is, Witmer’s content doesn’t grab me.
On the single “Life Before Aesthetics,” Witmer drones about the perceived importance of material goods, but he doesn’t sell us anything new. Witmer opens the song with “I’ve got more important things than shiny diamond rings and modern furniture,” as if nobody else does. It’s a tired sentiment that came to maturity in the late-90s neo-hippy fad.
“Carry the Weight” also explores the heights of sickeningly sweet. Tracks like “Song of Songs” are sure to induce vomiting in anyone who doesn’t keep a Beanie Baby collection and decorate their home with Anne Geddes calendars.
The real problem that I have with the album is that it could have been a fantastic piece of work. The song structure is there, the music is beautiful, the melodies touching, and then Mr. Witmer opens his brooding yap and it all falls apart.
The lyrics don’t quite make the album unlistenable, but they sure don’t add anything to it either. It comes down to the fact that Witmer isn’t a lazy lyricist, he’s a bad lyricist.
The attempt is there to channel the kind of emotion into his work that the truly great songwriters have, it just isn’t coming together.
Witmer’s lyrics lack the immediate poignancy of influences like Jackson Browne and fail to reach a wider audience. To Witmer himself the songs may well be as poignant as they come, but you could have fooled me.