Willard Grant Conspiracy
It is a measure of the effect of this band that I still remember the first time I heard the Willard Grant Conspiracy. I was sat in a tent at a festival when this gloriously sad, funereally-paced sound appeared. I’d been there to hear Jackie Leven, a wonderfully melancholy voice from Fife but he was followed by this majestically mournful band that floored me.
A decade on from there, the Willard Grant Conspiracy still make Townes Van Zandt sound like Lady GaGa and the Cowboy Junkies sound like Alvin & The Chipmunks. The sound is oh-so-simple: An acoustic guitar, bowed viola, some piano and a teeny bit of distorted electric guitar. Quite often it is just that (there are a couple of instrumentals on here and extended instrumental sections to the songs). Robert Fisher’s voice provides a resonant and bleakly reassuring solidity to the undertaking. His slightly warbly tones make the lyrics vulnerable, human and approachable. He is the only common part to the band over nearly twenty years. Players come and go, Robert is the band. David Curry, who has been in a number of the band’s incarnations plays the viola and that is why that sound dominates the album with its almost human voice.
It’s not just the arrangements or the pace – it’s the content. Song after song is about death, abandonment, regret and the elemental passions of a soul stripped back by elemental forces. It probably helps that Fisher lives in the desert. There is a simplicity to the words that compels and they still use an old trope of theirs – repeating a line till it takes on an extra depth; “oh, we wait / and the tears won’t come”. Somehow this album gives a sense, less of a band playing songs to us, than a band working out the songs, exploring them, ready for a full work-out. That leaves a space for the listener to move into and inhabit.
Disarming simple and painfully slow, this album will grow on you with each listen.