Originally released in Europe, Willard Grant Conspiracy’s sixth album, Let It Roll finally finds a domestic release for leader Robert Fisher’s weary baritone and frightening tales of probity.
Fisher’s relative anonymity stateside probably has a lot to do with the fact that he can be a challenging listen, and with ten songs clocking in at over an hour, Let It Roll is one tortuous record.
With somber visions and a voice that echoes late-period Nick Cave, Willard Grant Conspiracy is very much a thinking man’s Americana, providing listeners who don’t possess a modicum of patience little incentive to explore. But like some of those big-ass books still sitting on your shelf that appear too intimidating to start, Let It Roll can be an enjoyable read if you manage to find the time to sit down with it.
Starting with “From A Distant Shore”, a first-person account of a soldier preparing for battle overseas, Fisher wisely chooses to accompany the tale with a metaphoric trumpet and haunting violin. The subject matter is far from a pleasant one and it foreshadows some of the weighty themes that W.G.C. examines throughout the rest of the album.
The title track, one of the lengthiest songs on the disc, starts with three minutes of passionate guitar and violin turbulence before Fisher sets foot behind the mic with an equally intense murder ballad. By seven minutes, he’s defiantly yelling on his way to the gallows “There’s nothing to dying more than a ropes last whisper,” to the point where his voice has grown hoarse. Powerful stuff.
“Breach,” the second track to clock in at over nine minutes, strolls along like a last-call conversation, which can be either a provocation or pleasure depending on your own state of inebriation.
The liquor seems to flow again with W.G.C.’s cover of Dylan’s “Ballad Of A Thin Man.” Fisher gradually builds up Bobby’s ominous verses until he’s rasping the lyrics while guitarist Jason Victor creates some gruff six string verbalization of his own.
There are parts of Let It Roll which recall Dream Syndicate’s stunning The Medicine Show for good reason: Steve Wynn joins W.G.C.’s collective approach as a co-songwriter for the song “Flying Low” and backing vocalist. I’m sure the collaboration came from a feeling of mutual respect for one another and Fisher has found a great frame of reference in his own attempt at creating a commanding record.
As imposing as it strives to be, the unfastened quality of the performances oftentimes makes it seem too convoluted to receive the attention it deserves. But for those that can find the time to embrace it, Let It Roll turns out to be one helluva read.
"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 a 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."
01. From A Distant Shore
02. Let It Roll
03. Dance With Me
05. Flying Low
08. Mary Of The Angels
09. Ballad Of A Thin Man
10. Lady Of The Snowline