Originally released last summer 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” (QT), 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” (mp3) 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.