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Witherow: Pushing the edge of a familiar sound
With the popularity of the “new folk” genre steadily rising, the next generation of acoustic instrumentalists and singer-songwriters is emerging with a fresh look at traditional music.
An exciting example is the North Olympic Peninsula duo Witherow, comprised of Abby Mae Latson and Dillan Witherow. These two young musicians are no strangers to the bluegrass and folk music scenes, but have joined forces, bringing together their eclectic backgrounds to create some genuinely original music. I picked up their debut album “Standing on Shoulders,” expecting some impressive guitar and violin playing and nice vocal duets on a handful of cleverly written songs. Instead, I experienced a wonderfully cohesive album, containing a huge variety of musical sounds across 10 excellently composed acoustic and vocal compositions.
Their instrumental work is bold and engaging without ever being overbearing. Dillan’s guitar work is particularly noteworthy.
Throughout the album his playing borders on virtuosic, but the tasteful utilization of his skill to support and enhance the music is remarkable. It is evident that great care was taken to keep the focus on the duo’s outstanding singing and songwriting. This is a mark of real musical maturity and vision rarely seen in young artists.
“Standing on Shoulders” begins with rousing intensity that proceeds into better and better music as the album processes and develops themes of life, death and love. I enjoyed the first tracks of the album, but was really drawn in by the two-song suite of Tracks 3 and 4, “The Reckoning” and “Grass Will Grow on Your Grave.” These songs confront the listener with an honest warning about the fleeting nature of life without being overly dark.
To my ear the two strongest tracks on the album are “Confounded” and “Iniquity.” “Confounded” is very tightly composed with intelligent use of dynamics and instrumentation, which powerfully enhance lovely harmonies. “Iniquity” is even more potent. Compelling lyrics merge with driving instruments, including a fine banjo part, to push the listener right into the storm the music portrays.
The final two tracks are musical gems. “For Abbygail” is a beautiful instrumental, with an intricacy that seems more akin to a baroque air than a folk tune, but the harmonies are fresh and delicate, reminding me of the minimalist sounds of Philip Glass or Steve Reich.
The album ends with the touching song “When Breath Is No More,” the peak of vocal chemistry between Dillan and Abby on the entire album.
Whether you are a fan of traditional folk or new acoustic music, Witherow is a must-hear duo. Particularly effective tracks like “Iniquity” and “Suspended” have me convinced that as they gain more experience and confidence in their singing and songwriting they will continue to push boundaries with their innovative music. The quality of their writing shows potential for even more creative vocal duets, maybe some a cappella sections, and an even wider variety of musical textures.
“Standing on Shoulders” is a truly impressive first album and I’m looking forward to their music to come.