published: 17 /
The Willard Grant Conspiracy have never been interested in making the same album twice. From the near psychedelia of their 1996 debut album '3 a.m. Sunday at Fortune Otto's' to the brooding, thrashed
The Willard Grant Conspiracy have never been interested in making the same album twice. From the near psychedelia of their 1996 debut album '3 a.m. Sunday at Fortune Otto's' to the brooding, thrashed intensity of their second offering 'Flying Low' to last year's majestic 'Mojave' which canvassed a range of sounds from punk to folk pop to heartfelt ballad, each of their previous three studio recordings have all been radically different from one another.
Back now with 'Everything's Fine' their fourth album in four years, the band, a loose consortium from Boston which features full-time members vocalist Robert Fisher and guitarist Paul Austin plus an ever revolving cast of both supporting and guest musicians, has switched tracks again. 'Everything's Fine' finds the group using a piano for the first time as a central instrument, and in contrast to the refined 'Mojave' which was produced over a three month period, it was recorded and mixed in just two weeks. Many of this strong album's eleven songs, as a result, have a sense of breezy urgency and an earthy, windswept energy.
On this album, as on their previous records, The Willard Grant Conspiracy have used traditional, roots-based instruments such as mandolins, a cello, a banjo, a viola, a harmonica and an accordion to complement their sound alongside the piano, and guitars and drums. The strident opening number 'Notes from The Waiting Room', a country waltz, balances chiming piano and guitar effects with an accordion, and is written from the perspective of a dying mountain man. "Open the windows and let me breathe slowly/the smell of roses will take me away" croons Fisher in its last verse, his until now vibrant baritone voice sinking to a soft husk as the song winds to a close. Nature has a similarly important part to play both on the second number 'Christmas in Nevada' and also later on on 'The Beautiful Song'. The former song, a blurred mesh of harmonica, accordion, piano and guitar, surges and crackles with a restless, electric hastiness, and chronicles the fragmented, momentous life of a hobo who is on the run from himself asmuch as anyone else. "Steal a car/and hope it runs" sings Fisher, underlying both his character's desperateness and also displaying a bleak sense of humour. The twisted latter track, meanwhile, resonates with the sound of a shimmering steel guitar and has its narrator, drunk with love, finding a warped, offbeat beauty in all things.
While much of 'Everything's Fine', despite its often black subject matter, is frequently up-tempo, there are also some very downbeat moments on the album as well. Mournful strings and a funereal, plodden sound on'Southend of a Northbound Train', a ballad, are used to help chronicle the fate of a girl who drowns herself after her no-good and luckless boyfriend, who "born to dangle beneath the hanging tree", is shot dead even before the gallows can get to him. As the album progresses, it becomes steadily softer and more brooding still. Echoing and rich in lush, dark atmospherics, with Fisher's voice reduced to a weary whisper, the penultimate track 'Closing Time' captures the plight of the solitary alcoholic at last orders ("Give me refuge from the daytime/give me solace from thenight/let me tithe in the only church I know/give me one drink before the lights go low"). The final number, 'Massachusetts' meanwhile finds Fisher,accompanied by just a stark piano, alone, depressed, stuck inside because of a snow drift outside, and made unsettled and anxious by the quiet of late night and the ticking of the clock in his neighbour's bedroom upstairs.
'Everything's Fine' is the sound of a band at the height of their powers and confidence, but with the will to versatite and experiment. The support and guest musicians, which this time around include Walkabouts members Terri Moeller on drums and Carla Torgerson on backing vocals ; solo artist Edith Frost again on vocals ; Boston engineer Peter Linnane on accordion and piano, and Come and Codeine member Chris Brokaw on slide guitar, give freshness and further weight to make a very special album. This is one of the outstanding records of the year.
Notes From The Waiting Room
Christmas In Nevada
Ballad Of John Parker
Southend Of A Northbound Train
The Beautiful Song