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Willard Grant Conspiracy
Let It Roll
Dahlia Records/Reincarnate Music/Sony BMG
www.willardgrantconspiracy.com


Any time a baritone crooner of gothic folk or wind-ravaged country comes along, the comparisons to Nick Cave and Tom Waits invariably roll off of people's lips. But, the comparisons are so over-used that they've lost most of their impact. For one thing, Tom Waits' career is so vast and decade-spanning that really, one should qualify the comparison with terms like "'80s -era" or something to that effect. His music went through many phases, particularly his voice, which seems to have settled on old and gravelly, but it wasn't always like that. The other effect these comparisons have is that they tend to reinforce the idea that you should really just re-visit those artists' catalogs rather than examine the new material in hand. It also says that none of the new blood has distinguished itself enough to become the new benchmark for comparison. While Willard Grant Conspiracy certainly might be that band some day, I assert that it hasn't arrived with this album.

Robert Fisher's vocals have this dying breath resignation to them that makes you feel the finality of each sentence, as though it were being etched into a headstone. "From a Distant Shore" is so crushingly depressing that it should come with a warning label. It leads well into the more musically upbeat "Let it Roll", but successive tracks don't command attention quite as well, except for "Flying Low" which showcases the preferred embodiment of Fisher's voice, smooth and effortlessly free-wheeling, accompanied by a whimsical melody with melancholic undertones. The pace of "Dance with Me" and "Breach" could best be described as indolent, and at seven and nine and a half minutes, respectively, it's hard to stay engaged. "Crush" offers a break from the paceless staggering that precedes it, but stylistically seems out of place. "Ballad of a Thin Man" is an effective narrative of a freakshow patron pitied by the very freaks one is expected to marvel at. Fisher's voice is pushed to the breaking point by the forceful drama of the piece, but just barely holds for the last apex of the album. "Lady of the Snowline" is a succinct and appropriate coda to the album, demonstrating the attention paid to proper arrangement of the tracks within the album.

Now, for all my nitpicking, it might seem that I didn't enjoy this record but I do. However, I always feel that one should serve warning on any album where the average track length is over six minutes, particularly when the songs are so slow and dirgeful. Anyone looking to drown their dour sorrow in gothic country gloom will find themselves an available seat at this stale and affected saloon. I can already imagine the sound of the TB-riddled cough that you medicate with Pall Mall and Jack Daniels.

-JD

Track Listing:
1. From A Distant Shore
2. Let It Roll
3. Dance With Me
4. Skeleton
5. Flying Low
6. Breach
7. Crush
8. Mary Of The Angels
9. Ballad Of A Thin Man
10. Lady Of The Snowline


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Mike Doughty



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