Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let It Roll (Dahlia)
By Mark Keresman
Boston-based music group Willard Grant Conspiracy sure knows how to make a music critic’s job tough. Whereas most bands can be blithely described with a few words, WGC practically requires a new genre tag. Stylistically, it’s got strong folk-rock and rootsy overtones but isn’t exactly Americana. Instead, WGC couches the disquieting angst of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen in the baroque-like elegance of Belle & Sebastian at their most melancholic. Lead singer Robert Fisher’s smooth, contemplative baritone has a winning straightforwardness mingled with world-weariness and suspicion. On the ditty “Flying Low,” he croons, “And I dreamed I saw the angels flying low/They encompass all that’s good, or so I’m told.” The album is lent orchestral savor by the regal-sounding violin/viola of Josh Hillman and the yearning trumpet of guest Dennis Cronin. Rendering Roll more cathartic than depressing is WGC’s occasional forays into wrenching rockin’ dissonance à la Roxy Music and John Cale-era Velvet Underground. Dylan fans may not like the droll, thundering rendition of his “Ballad of a Thin Man.” With WGC, it appears that glum is good. BROWARD NEW TIMES
‘Let It Roll’
Willard Grant Conspiracy (Dahlia Records) ***
These are prairie-spun symphonies that evoke heartache and despair. On point is Willard Grant Conspiracy lead singer Robert Fisher, raspy and raw, orchestrating violins, keyboards and guitars in a whirling mix that finds a precedent in the early albums of Camper Van Beethoven. Darkness seeps from the title track, its bleak prospects punctuated with religious imagery. A lonely trumpet heralds “From a Distant Shore,” a chilling, heart-rending soldier’s story. And while it’s generally not a good idea to cover the work of icons, Fisher invests Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” with equal parts desperation and bravado.
Just when hope seems impossible, Fisher lets loose with “Flying Low,” the album’s centerpiece. Fisher sings of the voices heard by the multitudes, of a guy finding God behind a Taco Bell, of “faith born in the patience that living requires.” The chorus includes visions of angels who “encompass all that’s good, or so I’m told,” Fisher’s conversion not quite complete.
— Regis Behe Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let It Roll
Essential: “Let It Roll”
If singer Robert Fisher hadn’t already moved his WGC collective from Boston to the high deserts of California, “Let It Roll” would have pushed him there. Only such wide-open spaces could fit the album’s outsized dichotomies: optimism and melancholy, admiration and disgust, the epic and intimate. Backed by a wonderful Americana orchestra, Fisher has untethered the grinding calm and aggravated fury in the group’s songs. The soldier’s tale of “From a Distant Shore” and the bare-bones “Skeleton” are swelling, heaving beauties, while a take on Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” is all spit and pus. The standout is the dramatic title cut, a raucous gale of noise and emotion. The album occasionally drifts, but even in thinner moments, Fisher’s rich tonality embraces his narratives like Willie Nelson singing Nick Cave murder ballads, resounding with comfort that reaches beyond the somber dignity of his blue world. [Tristram Lozaw] BOSTON GLOBE
WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY
“Let It Roll”
Reincarnate | Grade: A-
Since relocating from Massachusetts to the California desert, Robert Fisher and his collective have slowly turned their folk noir into equally brooding rock. The evolution seems complete as Fisher’s bottomless voice ranges from the poetic meter of a Leonard Cohen to the pleading wail of Jim Morrison in an epic examination of mankind that swirls from dreamy strings and horns to gnashing guitars. BOSTON HERALD
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let It Roll
For many American bands, “Big in Europe” once carried negative connotations. But these days, it’s practically a merit badge; turns out the fromage eaters and warm ale drinkers are pretty shrewd arbiters of American music. Take the Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Let It Roll, whose wistful country, folk and minor-key rock songs steer toward the alt-country corral—a still-popular destination for European listeners. Robert Fisher—with his Nick Cave-like, woofer-rumbling baritone—adorns his narratives with (lapsed) Catholic iconography and war imagery, traits that resonate with the old countries’ darker sensibilities and history. With all but two songs exceeding five minutes, Fisher’s gothic-noir epics may tax American attention spans, but the languorous “Breach,” a twisted saloon rave-up of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” and the Dirty Three-on-steroids title track all offer open road-soundtrack salvation for claustrophobic Euros. This is music we Yanks take for granted—which is as much our loss as Fisher’s.
By John Schacht
STUDIO CITY SUN + SHERMAN OAKS SUN + ENCINO SUN
March 2 – 8, 2007
BY BILL BENTLEY
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let it Roll
If Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds had kissing cousins in the U.S., it would be singer-songwriter Robert Fisher and his band Willard Grant Conspiracy. There is a reckless abandon to so much of the Conspiracy’s attack, that at times it feels like they’re getting ready to skid from the road right off the side of the mountain. It’s the feeling of freedom that very few groups can still attain, but Fisher’s songs — along with one co-written with Steve Wynn — have individualistic beauty that many other artists have mostly run away from. Maybe it’s the influence of the high desert, or possibly it’s just the ability to trust himself completely, but Robert Fisher has found a natural home to rest his originality. And even the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” is turned upside down into something brand new. If that’s not a conspiracy of cool, then nothing is.
Boston Phoenix/Feb 2007
Faith and fury
Robert Fisher and his Willard Grant Conspiracy
By: JIM SULLIVAN
“Sober, but not healthy, that’s the way I always refer to myself,” says Robert Fisher, who’s dressed in black, sipping hot tea, and nursing a bad throat at ZuZu in Central Square. “A long time ago, I outed myself on that. I don’t have a problem with that whole anonymity thing, because the way I look at it is: I’m still a fuck-up, so if some kid who’s struggling with things knows that and sees somebody can do it, that’s okay. Nothing wrong with that.”
The 49-year-old Fisher is the creative force behind Willard Grant Conspiracy — he’s to them what Howe Gelb is to Giant Sand. And as we talked, one of the many versions of Willard Grant Conspiracy, a sextet, were preparing to play upstairs at the Middle East. It was part of a showcase last month for the local Kimchee label, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Depending on budget and time commitments, the WGC line-up ranges from one — Fisher on voice and guitar — to 16 players. Fisher has 36 musicians he can call upon, on two continents. (The only time he’s made money on tour, he says, was as a one-man band touring Europe for six months last year.) That’s not surprising given that he specializes in elegiac yet cathartic songwriting that’s gotten WGC likened to poetic mood merchants like Tindersticks and Leonard Cohen, as well as the dark musings of Nick Cave. On the new Let It Roll, which is released by Dahlia/Reincarnate and distributed by Sony/BMG, Fisher used a core of eight primary players plus guests like Steve Wynn and Jack Dragonetti, and he indulged his more rockist leanings.
During an earlier phone chat, he had called it a radical album. I ask him to amplify. “It’s a radical change from Regard the End. That was a sculptured record, created around the songs, and assembled like a collage. Let It Roll is really a document of the live band. The main elements of the record are live recording done in the studio while we were on tour. With the exception of a few songs, it uses the more rock-and-roll aspects of what we do and what we’ve always done. To people who’ve seen us in Boston, it may not be such a surprise that the band is loud. But in Europe, for example, where for the first years I had to tour without a rhythm section, they expect something a little quieter.”
He paid particular attention to the sound. “One of the things I wanted to do was to create a record that was like an old-fashioned record. I wanted dynamics. No record these days has dynamics because they squash all the compression in mastering it.”
The result roars like rolling thunder, sometimes with intense immediacy, other times with distant fury. It’s an appropriate setting for an album that Fisher feels is also a departure in terms of the themes he tackles. “It starts with ‘From a Distant Shore,’ which is an anti-war song. I was pissed off after the last election, not the mid-term, but the presidential one. Normally I try to stay away from politics on stage, because I don’t necessarily think it’s my job. Usually I prefer to focus on personal politics, because at the end of the day, if everybody were more worried about their personal relationships with people immediately around them, it would be a better world.”
That track is followed by “Let It Roll,” which Fisher describes as “a reworking of a traditional murder ballad. With most murder ballads, there’s some set-up of a horrific act and then the repentance. I wanted one where there was no repentance. I wanted one where the guy goes into the next life as angry as he was before.” And there’s a cover of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” that fits that mood perfectly.
Fisher is a master of the well-turned phrase, the poignant story song, but he prefers not to spend too much time interpreting his songs. “I feel like playing music is an act of communication, and by definition it’s a two-way street. When you play live, you get a certain amount back from people, and allowing a song to be inhabited by the listener is a way of making the communication work. So many bands create this wall: ‘Here’s us, we’re the rock people, you’re the audience, and everything goes out.’ I’ve always thought our music was more inclusive.”
Perhaps. But Fisher roams some fairly dark recesses of his mind in song. There’s drama in much of what he writes, and it’s supported on Let It Roll with violas, guitars, and crashing drums. In “Crushed” he’s come “undone” and “lost the faith.” In “Breach” he sings, “And all that matters/Turns to grieve.” “Skeleton” paints this image: “The door is kicked/The lock is blown/Half of everything is gone/From half of everything I own.”
He grew up in California; in 1980 he moved to Portland, Maine, where he played with Volume Control and Blue Section. In 1984 he moved to Boston, where he joined Laughing Academy; he played with them until 1995. That was followed by stints with Flower Tamers and Violet Crumbles. He started Willard Grant Conspiracy in 1996; three years ago, just as the band were reaching headlining status in town, he moved back to the high desert of Lancaster, California, for what he says are “family reasons.” When he’s not on the road, he works as a loan officer for a mortgage broker. It’s not a bad thing: he knows he’s not the only musician who can’t support himself and his family with his art. The last WGC disc, Regard the End, sold roughly 3500 copies in the US and 10,000 in England. Let It Roll, which was released almost a year ago in England, had sold 6000 copies by the time it was released in the US last week.
He thinks the biggest misconception about Willard Grant Conspiracy is that “we’re a dark band. We’re not. If you’re depressed and listen to the blues, it doesn’t make you more depressed: it illuminates you, it lightens your load, it takes you places. Somewhere, I suspect in the ’80s, with the advent of all these pharmaceuticals to take care of every depressing moment, somewhere along the line, someone decided that people should never have a dark day. It’s a ludicrous concept. You value the bright days against the dark days. These ideas about melancholy music, or music that has substance to it, are bad and wrong because they marginalize it.”
Still, Fisher, who says he’s been in and out of therapy, acknowledges that the source of much of his material is indeed a dark place. “I’m an addict. It’s a selfish disease and it’s based on self-loathing. You don’t look the way I look without having some issues. On the one hand, being as heavy as I am really hurts the image of the band; on the other, it’s not something I choose. But it’s part of my disease. If I could somehow fix myself, to the point where I could find it comfortable to be healthier, I certainly would do it. It’s not fun to live like this. You don’t wake up every day and go, ‘Gee, I’m glad I’m huge and overweight and not attractive to other people and have trouble finding a place to sit on an airplane where people don’t complain.’ It hurts my band, it hurts my music, it hurts all kinds of things.”
The only time I saw Fisher smile that night at the Middle East was on stage, in the moment. Perhaps that was most apparent when he was deep into a swelling, surging, nine-minute “Let It Roll.” As bassist Pete Sutton put it after the set, “We brought the fuckin’ fury.”
No Depression March/April 2007
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let It Roll (Dahlia)
With a voice rich in personality and built for drama, Robert Fisher should sing movie trailers. In addition to the orchestral sweep painstakingly constructed by Fisher and his co-conspirators( a lengthy list that includes Steve Wynn, Blake Hazard and Chris Eckman), there’s a cinematic sweep to Let It Roll. As film festivals go, this one is epic heavy, at times even art house challenging, with majestic imagery and slow builds leading to powerful third–act scenes amidst the layers of strings, keys, mandolin, trumpet and seemingly anything else within reach. Although they’re far from romantic comedies, “Flying Low” (a Fisher/Wynn cowrite)and “Crush” are the exceptions that prove the rule, thanks to up front hooks and running times tha feel brisk next to some of their nine minute brethren. And Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man’, the one cover among ten songs, becomes crime noir; you can picture it being recorded in vaguely sinister black and white, with Fisher as Touch of Evil’s Hank Quinlan. You’re left with plenty to think about, and appreciate, as the credits roll.
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let It Roll
US release date: 27 February 2007
UK release date: 27 March 2006
by Michael Patrick Brady
The Willard Grant Conspiracy violates one of the fundamental guidelines of music: that bands which employ any non-traditional collective designation like ‘conspiracy’ or ‘project’ are only doing so to make their underwhelming presence seem far more meaningful. Instead, this now twelve-year-old conspiracy succeeds in overwhelming listeners with the breadth and depth of its sound, and continues to draw more and more talented musicians into its Byzantine orbit. At the center of this web of intricacies is Robert Fisher, whose craggy, weathered voice sounds like it’s been salvaged from a whiskey-soaked wax phonograph cylinder circa 1900, and has been the sole point of continuity for the loose-knit collective for its entire history.
Despite his Bostonian roots, about as far from the Mason-Dixon Line as one can get spiritually if not geographically, Fisher has cultivated a rich, wonderfully affecting alt-country sound in the vein of the folksy, modernist attitude of Howe Gelb or the Sadies. It’s true Americana, the kind of music that ironically finds better reception in Europe than the United States. It’s no surprise that Let It Rol was released across the pond first, almost a year ago, allowing a slow but steady groundswell of support to build and hopefully carry it to open ears back home. The band has been a consistent critical favorite, and their last album, 2003’s Regard the End, was perhaps Fisher’s most ambitious and astounding work to this point. Steeped in dark, somber minor-key ballads, Regard the End is an album-length meditation on loss, change, and vitality, featuring a haunting duet with Throwing Muses’ Kristen Hirsh on “The Ghost of the Girl in the Well”. It’s a devastating track, an absolute killer; the kind that songwriters dream of and music lovers play over and over in their heads for years.
Now, Fisher has uprooted his cadre from their chilly northeastern environs for the sunny shores of southern California, replacing the stark, Puritan atmosphere of Boston with the lingering sense of inevitable upheaval in Palmdale, along the San Andreas Fault. The new locale makes the group’s new album title, Let It Roll, sting a little more, leading one to assume it reference to the precarious nature of the ground they’ve laid their stakes in, and not the proverbial “good times” that clearly have no place on a Willard Grant Conspiracy record.
The mournful trumpet that signals the opening of “From a Distant Shore” bears this assumption out, leading listeners into a very subdued sketch of a departing soldier whose steely, quiet reserve belies an emotional tumult that only peaks out from beneath the stiff upper lip. It’s Fisher’s own “Dover Beach”, perhaps a tad unsubtle and on-the-nose, but the honesty and straightforwardness is disarming and lays out the bleakness of the soldier’s duty more effectively than any couched metaphors or allusive vagueness would.
The title track follows, immediately shaking off the dour dust of “From a Distant Shore” with a long and rollicking intro of clattering drums, sawing fiddle, and jittery, pounding piano. “Let It Roll” seems to stand in open contradiction with the themes of Regard the End. Where the previous album took a measured, introspective view toward the end of life, “Let It Roll” is an inflamed, bilious assault that seems to cast off any and all caution for an attractively insouciant and devilish demeanor. “There’s no room in heaven”, sings Fisher, his deep baritone charging ahead full of fire, “Now or hereafter / There’s nothing to dying / Except a rope’s soft whisper”. It’s a renunciation, a disillusioned gasp of recklessness that’s seductive and brings down a great, smiting weight.
Though the Conspiracy finds success with the up-tempo kick-in-the-tail of “Let it Roll”, that doesn’t mean they’ve forgone the subtle ballads that have endeared them to their fans. “Dance with Me” is a delightful waltz, a nice tune for late-night courting, or remembering loves lost on dimly-lit downtown streets. It shares an almost too-similar tempo and cadence with “Mary of the Angels”, which may put some off, but in the context of the whole album the pair come off as more of a suite where both hold up their respective ends. “Ballad of a Thin Man” stretches Fisher out of the familiar trails, casting him in a Waits-like lounge act, stumbling along the stuttered drums and arrhythmic, sloshing guitar lines. It’s not a perfect-fit, but Fisher wears it as best he can, making it a good choice for the soundtrack to your next lost weekend.
While Let It Roll doesn’t quite rise to the level of calm beauty that Regard the End achieved, it’s a worthy addition to the Willard Grant Conspiracy’s thick catalogue, an off-kilter album of fiery, fun alt-country that will satisfy anyone with a deep love of well-developed and thoughtful Americana.
RATING: 6/27 February 2007
American Songwriter March 2007
Willard Grant Conspiracy- Let it Roll
On Let It Roll, the Willard Grant Conspiracy reach a new high, rumbling across a shadowy desert to the end of the road where sand meets pavement and Nick Cave stands in the luminescent glow of Gram Parsons. Recorded in and, for the most part, live each track has that “enhanced” feeling and searing intensity that only comes with live performance. Strengthened by Robert Fisher’s gravelly voice and powerful songwriting, sleepy, horn flecked ballads mix with a gothic moodiness of lurching, atmospheric guitars, the occasional cheery folk infused, near pop rocker and the more poignant, darker rave ups like the title track which flows with an angry brooding character. Powerful, intense and provocative…yes, it’s certainly WGC – once again. – Glenn Burnsilver
Let It Roll
Willard Grant Conspiracy
All Music Guide
The Willard Grant Conspiracy really do “let it roll” on their sixth full-length studio effort, loosening up their well-established, stately, gothic Americana sound. While their music still has a somber, brooding feel, the group punctuates their sprawling songs with some squalling guitars. With its tracks averaging over six minutes, this disc might best capture Willard Grant’s live show dynamics. Not surprisingly, the band did this recording in the middle of a European tour. The album starts off in rather familiar Willard Grant territory. The solemn opening tune, “Distance Shore” finds Willard Grant ringmaster Robert Fisher’s signature deep, rich vocals intertwining with Dennis Cronin’s solitary trumpet and Josh Hillman’s mournful violin to create a haunting tale told from a battlefield soldier’s point-of-view. It also sets up the ominous sense of morality that pervades the entire disc, as references to life and death, heaven and hell, and angels and skeletons surface throughout the songs. With the second tune, the nine-minute-plus title track, Fisher and company (WGC is a large collective of musicians) do some significant sonic stretching. The intense “Let It Roll” commences with a near-three-minute electric guitar and violin-fueled maelstrom and retains its power while dipping and soaring across a dark soundscape. A latter cut, “Crush,” suggests the John Cale-era Velvet Underground bolstered by a dose of horns and industrial noise. Fisher howls himself hoarse while electric guitars roar on their rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” which emphasizes the song’s foreboding qualities. “Flying Low,” co-written with kindred spirit and former Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn, offers some cautious optimism in the refrain: “I dreamed I saw the Angels flying low/They encompass all that is good I suppose.” Fisher, however, sounds like he’s trying to convince himself that this is true. There is an endearing beauty to the elegant (if slightly overlong) waltz “Dance with Me” and “Lady of the Snowline” closes the record with a bit of tranquil redemption. The song also benefits from its relative brevity; it is the album’s only sub-four-minute tune. Occasionally, the album’s epic-length numbers overextend themselves. “Breach,” the second nine-plus-minute track, meanders more than it mesmerizes. Overall, however, Fisher and his cohorts succeed impressively in balancing the darkness and light, melancholy and hope, noise and quiet, and create something quite grand.
– Michael Berick, All Music Guide
Let It Roll
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Bandleader Robert Fisher doesn’t just write about the corners of the soul where death, revenge, transcendence, and spiritual crisis confuse human will. On the Willard Grant Conspiracy’s brilliant sixth album, Fisher conjures them in grand sonic chiaroscuro: bright and brooding textural arrangements that pit swirling guitar feedback against wistful violins and layers of keyboards, percussion, and voices. The grandest instrument of all is Fisher’s Jim Morrison-like baritone, which perfectly expresses his dark poetry–especially in the nine-minute title number, a tale of blasphemy and retribution as arresting and expansive as the Doors’ “The End.” Well-tailored production and experimentalism take this disc a few steps away from the roots/Americana foundation of the California-based group’s earlier recordings. Nonetheless, a cover of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” fits right in, thanks to the fractured backbone provided by guitarist Jason Victor. Steve Wynn cowrote the lyrics to the survivor’s song “Flying Low,” and John Dragonetti, Blake Hazard, and other indie-rock darlings make cameos. But Let It Roll is obviously the product of Fisher’s own strong, singular vision, and could win the Willard Grant Conspiracy a following of the same heroic proportions they already enjoy in Europe. –Ted Drozdowski
WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY, Let It Roll (Dahlia Records): WGC follows 2004’s morbid beauty “Regarding the End” with the marginally more cheerful “Let It Roll,” which finds frontman/songwriter Robert Fisher’s Jim Morrison-esque bellow buoyed by harmonies and instrumental assists from indie-rock pals like Steve Wynn and Blake Hazard. Fisher vents his obsession with the dark side in a righteous, rocking reworking of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” and the nine-minute title track, which swells on an almost orchestral tide of agitated guitars, organs, crashing drums and darkly beautiful poetry. Elsewhere his violin-dressed tales of papier-mâché crosses, broken codes, frightened soldiers and angels “Flying Low” sadly hope for sweetness and grace. -Bliss
musicforants.com, Feb 2007
It’s a good feeling when you give an album a chance and it really surprises you. From looking at the CD cover, band photos, band name, even the font choice for Willard Grant Conspiracy, it doesn’t look like something I’d enjoy but after giving the CD a listen, I’ve turned a complete 180. The CD skips across a few genres but for the most part stays close to folk rock. The use of violin and the and Robert Fisher’s baritone and soulful vocals are what set this album apart.
The two promo tracks on the album also happen to be my favorite two tracks (always nice when that happens). “Flying Low” is a wonderful laid-back folk tune that is backed by a gorgeous violin melody. The best part of the song is the chorus which features female backing vocals and some beautiful lyrics, “and I dreamed I saw the angels flying low.” Skeleton is another stand-out track, and it also features features a violin part and a memorable chorus. The song is much darker throughout, reminding me of some of U2’s early 90’s work (think “So Cruel or “Acrobat”).
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let It Roll
That ever-shifting collective known as the Willard Grant Conspiracy has been quietly crafting its epic sound for well over a decade, although meeting greater success overseas than in its native US. Yet, despite its seemingly simple title, Let It Roll provides another magnificent showcase for the group’s expansive gothic sweep, a beautiful but fearful mélange capable of sending shivers down the spine. Musical mainstay Robert
Fisher is adept at extracting gutwrenching emotion, be it the anguish that’s embedded in the solemn and mournful laments “From A Distant Shore” and “Mary Of The Angels” or the sense of utter despondency that trails the world-weary strum of “Breach” and the eerie yet evocative “Dance With Me.” Much like Nick Cave or John Cale, two artists with whom he shares a ruffled disposition, Fisher’s downcast gaze comes across as troubling rather than tepid; on the tangled title track, sinister suggestion quickly congeals into a hellish tirade that brings a tempestuous Jim Morrison to mind. Likewise, the hollow percussion and vacant stare of the aptly-named “Skeleton” steers its surreal narrative towards an anthemic refrain. Most telling of all is a skittish, nightmarish cover of Dylan’s “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” which replaces the cynicism of the original
with an apocalyptic fury all its own.
– LEE ZIMMERMAN
Bucketful of Brains Review; Let It Roll 2007
The credits to Regard the End, WGC’s previous album, proclaimed “if somebody says they play with us – they probably do”; a nod to the extended family of musicians involved in Robert Fisher’s continuing project. This democratic tendency is subtly altered on “Let it Roll” where ‘the Band’ is differentiated from ‘the Long Distance Conspirators’.
Robert seems to now seems to have a settled band albeit sharing two members with the European touring version of Miracle Three. But the guests make up a mighty congregation including Robert Lloyd, Chris Eckman, Linda Pitmon and Steve Wynn. Altogether this two-tiered WGC present the most intelligent and moving use of instrumentation available now across the wide tapestry, with violas, violins, trumpets, pump organs and “things that don’t sound like you think they will”. Fisher has attained a confidence and a certainty in his singing; his voice, a compelling meld of Simon Bonney and Phil Ochs. The result is a gothic majesty matching the Bad Seeds at their glorious heights. It’s a music of epiphany. Of moments when the eternal touches the transient or when the naked lunch is in front of you. “
Shore ” is written from the point of view of a soldier who’s to die the next morning. He’s thinking of both his lover and his enemy, and there seems to be an elision between the two. Meanwhile trumpets, piano and then strings combine and cross and intensify in what’s a funeral hymn, but also a promise of constancy; “my breath will be the breeze you feel from a distant shore”.
The epic title track comes in at over eight minutes, its intense intro alone is two minutes long. Roll it certainly does, and in Robert’s almost reluctantly ejaculated “God is in the house” makes tribute to its antecedents.
Dance with Me’ is typically slow and stately though with a good joke on himself;”what a site we will be, when you dance with me”. The closest we get to jaunty is ‘Flying Low’ a co-write with Steve Wynn. It’s warm and as near as you’ll get to pop from a WGC record. That it’s about angels keeps it in the territory, but there are patent Wynn lyrics about finding god in a Taco Bell and a concluding girl chorus, at a guess Linda Pitmon and Mary Lorson.
Dylan’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ gets another airing, sounding a lot more at home here than on the execrable tribute album it initially came from, before ‘Lady of the Snowline’ ends things up. It brings another dig at himself; “before I fade thin, cast a shadow no more”. And that’s Robert Fisher for you, a jolly man with a healthy sense of the depth and the absurdity of being, which has let him, while we’ve all been looking the other way, become one of the finest singers and writers we have,
– Nick West
Comes With A Smile 2006- Let It Roll (Loose)
Mind-blown as a purchaser at # 5, my involvement with Comes with a Smile began with the following issue. During this time, my life has changed beyond recognition, much of the new found through doors opened as a result of my contributions to this beautiful thing you now hold. I started promoting gigs as a hobby (now up to 30+ a year), started an internet radio show, still take on plenty of DJ slots and regular local writing assignments, finding myself in the midst of a previously unconsidered whirl of creativity – and loving it. It remains a fact that the flick of CwaS’ forefinger set my dominoes in motion. Hell, I even met my wife as a direct result of my first review submission, so this is a little bit more than a music mag to me.
For # 13, I had the good fortune to interview Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher. The encounter was a little bit different as these situations go, and I remain extremely proud that the necessarily unorthodox resultant piece drew me unexpected acclaim from humbling quarters. In that conversation, we chewed on questions arising from the towering Regard The End (Loose, 2003), a sonic treatise on coming to terms with mortality – a theme that resurfaces on the follow-up Let It Roll. It is with a teary synchronicity, then, that (for now; let’s just talk of hibernation) my last review for CwaS is of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s new offering. It seems apt with an opportunity for some kind of reprise of a personal highlight, and considering such inescapable talk of ‘endings’.
My partiality for grand exits and propensity for gushing, superlative-peppered copy frothed with overbearing enthusiasm is served well by Let It Roll. The release of Regard The End was greeted with unanimous praise, critics drooling for a band seemingly at the peak of its powers. Note ‘seemingly’ there, as this sixth WGC studio album cruises past its predecessor on a wave of confidence and the joy of rock dynamics. Let It Roll is packed with surprises and glorious pop twists that could well propel the band towards finally properly breaking their homeland, and will surely see concert venues the world over packed every night. Some of the 10 songs here were showcased on the last tour; even in raw live form it appeared that when this album dropped, it would be monumental. And it is. With every track on the album a potential set closer, the effect is almost overwhelming.
There are no signs of where Let It Roll will go on the delicate, downbeat opener
Shore . A chamber piece with pretty piano, free-roaming violin and plaintive horn providing a soft bed for Fisher’s deep croon, it’s a delightful but melancholy introduction. But then in smashes the howling title track, reminiscent of the Bad Seeds in its unsettling, gothic crunch. (Fisher is no fool, even dropping in the Cave song title God Is In The House in one cheeky moment). Guitars scream and violins scrape for a full 3 minutes (of the 9+) before Fisher booms in, and he ends the song in full-throated scream, pretty much leaving you dribbling and the neighbours calling the police. Blimey.
The acoustic side to WGC is magnificently represented on Let It Roll by a haunting folk song and three exquisite plodders, the first, Dance With Me, allowing for exhalation after the preceding maelstrom. It’s just gorgeous, and would certainly go in my indie disco erection section. Nonetheless, its beauty is effortlessly matched on the sprawling Breach – which drips with
Hammond organ and gentle atmospherics – and the dreamy gospel of Mary of The Angels. All are vintage WGC and further examples, as if any were needed, of Fisher’s innate ability to compose music of considerable emotional wallop. The folk song, Lady of The Snowline, closes the album and again presents a contemplation on death, but it still twinkles and charms as horns and violin tip-toe softly in and out. Even as the album’s shortest track at under 4 minutes, it still warrants the tag ‘epic’.
But it is the rock side of this band that really fascinates. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as there have been plenty of clues along the way as to what a snarling beast this band can be. It’s just that it’s a little more off the rails and kinda scarier than ever before, and also very brave after the relative tranquillity of Regard The End.
Skeleton, in a world gone good, will be a massive alternative hit, blessed as it is with an irresistible funk-lite shuffle and huge pop chorus. And there could be a bona fide radio hit waiting in the bouncy folk-pop of Flying Low: Titled after WGC’s second album (curiously, these words also appear in the first line of Skeleton), this is Let It Roll’s Soft Touch. However you look at the song in the context of what surrounds it, it’s great pop. Pere Ubu, Julian Cope and The Scene Is Now come to mind in the joyous art-punk of Crush, which chugs along in an intoxicating soup of noise that Kevin Shields would have spent mucho dollar to achieve. Add the band’s grinding interpretation of Dylan’s Ballad of A Thin Man, where Miracle 3 guitarist Jason Victor turns in a blistering performance, and Willard Grant Conspiracy, the world’s best garage folk-rock band. take a fully deserved standing ovation.
I’ll leave them to soak it in, and go with a smile.
Thank you for reading.
Willard Grant Conspiracy – Let It Roll (Loose)
If, after five albums, you thought WGC weren’t about to change their spots, here’s a turn up for the book. It’s not as though they’ve suddenly turned into thrash metal or anything and they still make a fine companion bookend with Tindersticks, but with the departure of co-writer guitarist Simon Alpin, mainman Robert Fisher has taken sole control of the creative and production helm, inviting in guests such as Mary Lorson, Steve Wynn and Chris Eckman and unleashing those Nick Cave and Lou Reed influences he’d kept bottled inside.
Bizarrely, with Denis Cronin’s trumpet flourishes, the opening
Shore , a zeitgeist song about a soldier on the eve of battle (“I landed here in country with my nations guns and flags”), sounds like something Cave might have recorded with a
Yorkshire brass band. But that’s nothing compared to the following title track, a nine minute sonic epic that preludes its dark, religious imagery lyrics with a boiling three minute tumult of violin, keyboards and guitar, a storm of sound that returns towards the end before the song fades away on a dying piano. Studio time clearly wasn’t a worry because there’s another nine minuter in the rather more meandering Breach while the slow waltzing, violin melancholy of Dance With Me clocks in at seven and the desert noir slouching blues cover of Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man stretches to just past six.
The width’s matched by the quality though, the Wynn co-penned Flying Low an optimistic, chorus friendly number steeped in a gently rolling melody, Crush a raucous rock n roller with parping brass and Velvets swagger, and Mary of the Angels a lovely hymn to love custom built for some backwoods church.
Fisher closes up with the shortest number, Lady of the Snowline, the brass returning to burnish the simple acoustic guitar figure and its spiritual lyric of open acceptance of “these days filled with grace” as Fisher sings ‘roll me down to the water, lay me down by the shore, let the water hold me over till I find my way home.” Roll with it, indeed.
Mike Davies, March 2006 – Net Rhythms (www.netrhythms.co.uk)
Songs concerned with death, misery and mortality, hued with doleful violin or mournful melodica and delivered by Robert Fisher’s sorrow hung melancholic resonant throaty rumble of a baritone that can make
Cave sound like S Club Juniors – it’s not exactly a recipe for a knees up.
But strangely the presiding mood is upbeat, even River in The Pines trad tale of two young lovers, a drowning and a grave manages to come out the other end celebrating their devotion while the self-penned Beyond The Shore sees passing as the end of life’s woes and a passage to Glory.
Of course, it’s hard to find too much sunshine in Ghost Of The Girl In The Well, a murder ballad (featuring Kristin Hersh) about a plantation girl who died trying to escape the man “who owned my family” or The Suffering Song, a magnificent though not entirely optimistic saga of a dysfunctional disintegrating family which reminds us that ‘sufferings gonna come to everyone someday’. It’s a sort of negative zone version of the gospel worksongs about heaven’s mercies the slaves used to boom out to ease their toil. And talking of which, of the four traditional numbers among the eleven songs, you’ll find a transfixing version of Another Man Is Gone (aka Another Man Done Gone) that etches its mood on piano and slide guitar as Fisher booms out with a bellowing howl of anguish and indignation designed to shake the almighty’s throne.
It says much of Fisher’s work and influences that unless you know it’s almost impossible to separate the trad from the self-penned, as easy to mistake Twistification for the latter as it is The Trials of Harrison Hayes for the former.
Working with the usual array of guest musicians (17 of them this time including Jess Klein and The Walkabouts’ Chris Eckman) and partly recorded in (which may explain the Eastern European folk ambience here and there), it may turn over the rocks to explore the human failings that scurry below but there’s redemption and hope here too. On Soft Hand basic human contact of skin on skin brings a smile and while death peers over the shoulder on Day Is Past And Gone and Fare Thee Well finds a man alone in a rented room ruminating on a wrecked relationship, there’s a sense of peace and acceptance rather than anger. One to have you reaching for the Rizlas rather than the razors then.
Mike Davies – Net Rhythms (www.netrhythms.co.uk)