Willard Grant Conspiracy

Regard the End

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Robert Fisher, the literate, somber, and compelling mouthpiece for Gothic Americana ensemble Willard Grant Conspiracy, sings and speaks in an elegant -- perhaps a bit fabricated -- drawl that calls to mind Junior Brown doing Leon Redbone impersonating Nick Cave on a Tindersticks tribute record. His conversational demeanor and snowy imagery are the driving force behind the 11 tales of loss and redemption that constitute the band's latest collection, the ominously titled Regard the End. Beginning with the traditional "River in the Pines," the group establishes the last log in the fireplace warmth that has fueled their previous outings, creating an alternate universe of sepia-toned dread like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life. Vocals are layered like steps on an old staircase on the beautiful "Trials of Harrison Hayes," an emotional tale of regret that features the soulful harmonies of Jess Klein. "The Ghost of the Girl in the Well" is a definite highlight, lent added weight by string players Josh Hillman and David Michael Curry, who wrap their bows around Kristin Hersh's reedy voice, eventually giving way to Fisher's mournful crooning. "Soft Hand" begins with a drum loop that, strangely enough, resembles the intro to Hall and Oates' "I Can't Go for That," before evolving into one of the record's lighter moments, with Fisher telling an upset significant other "There, I made you smile." Willard Grant Conspiracy are a chamber group. Like an ambitious version of the Scud Mountain Boys, they manage to appear out of nowhere in your living room, play an intimate set, and invoke every ghost from a 20-mile radius through your front door before leaving as quickly as they came. Regard the End may not be the opus they're bound to create, but it's their closest yet.

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