For all the autobiographical touches on Revisionary History, it’s also a collection of deeply relatable songs. The reflective piano ballad “Friend” opens the album with Witt sifting through feelings of attraction for someone she knows should be just a pal and not a lover, while the aching vocal showcase “Consolation Prize” pairs torchy piano with taut electric guitar accents as Witt muses over the ways in which we edit our pasts to fit the present. Revisionary history, indeed — the album title comes from a lyric in that song.
“We can constantly be revising how we remember things, and maybe that’s not so bad,” says Witt, whose TV credits include The Sopranos, Friday Night Lights and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. “Maybe it’s how we move on.”
Produced by Ben Folds, Revisionary History was years in the making. Some of the songs date back to the mid-’00s, which gave her plenty of time to hone them in concert before heading to Folds’ studio in Nashville, where she recorded the album in two week-long chunks in the spring and late fall of 2013.
“He’s got such a unique and specific vision for how those songs should best be presented,” Witt says of Folds. “I had no doubt that he was going to bring to it his own vision for the sound of each song, but he also wanted it to be a truthful reflection of what I do. The record sounds very much like me.”
Witt credits Folds for digging into the essence of each song for musical arrangements that sometimes brought out their hidden sides: the folky stomp on “Blind,” for example, highlighted the rootsy touches in a song Witt had been performing for years, while the mournful trumpet and marching drumbeat perfectly captured the mood on “Down,” a tune inspired by the smart but troubled character Witt played on Season Five of the Emmy-nominated FX seriesJustified, and featuring the Emmy-nominated New York rapper and actor T.O.N.E-z
“When I heard it all put together, it made me cry,” Witt says. “At the end, when the trumpet comes in, it sounds like a soul making its way up.”
Then there’s the girl-power anthem “About Me,” which shows the influence of Folds and Billy Joel in the robust piano and Witt’s defiant, determined vocals; or the lush, sultry ’60s-style pop tune “Theme From Pasadena,” which Witt wrote with Folds for the movie Cold Turkey (Witt starred opposite Peter Bogdanovich and Cheryl Hines in the indie drama, which was originally to be called Pasadena). In fact, Revisionary History boasts such an array of sounds and styles that there’s no pigeonholing Witt as a musician.
“I love all different types of music, so the songs that I come up with and am drawn to when I’m writing are naturally all over the place,” says Witt, whose movie credits include 88 Minutes with Al Pacino and Two Weeks Notice with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock.
Witt has been a music lover since she was a little girl growing up in Worcester, Mass. She began playing piano when she was 7, competing in international piano competitions into her teen years. After she moved to Los Angeles at 14, she supported herself by playing in the lobby lounge of the Beverly Wilshire hotel until she landed her first regular acting job on the CBS show Cybil when she was 16. It took a few more years before she began consistently writing her own songs, and it wasn’t until 2008 that she started performing them. Her first gig was opening for Jimmy Webb at a benefit in New York. Moving from standards and show tunes to original songs was a big leap for Witt.
“There was a considerable fear factor,” she says. “As an actor doing theater and doing live television, it wasn’t about performing for people. It was about performing my own music. That’s incredibly vulnerable.”
Witt’s fears that audiences wouldn’t respond proved very much unfounded, and the vulnerability of opening up to strangers helped her make the all-important connection that turned them into fans.
“The most that I can hope for as a singer-songwriter is telling these stories that are incredibly personal, but saying them in a way that somebody else can relate to their own experiences,” Witt says.
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