Willard Grant Conspiracy – Paper Covers Stone

This is an oddly tricky review to write, because I am so familiar with all of these songs already.  This album sees Robert Fisher and a bare-bones band revisit their back catalogue and rework an album’s worth of material in more low-fi style that than in which it was (generally) first released.

This recording was done with a small group of musicians who formed the core of the band in the early days and, according to the website, is intended to capture the “living room nature” of their early performances.

Those of us who have seen the band live a couple of times won’t be all that surprised by this project, because the band seems to work this way most of the time anyway: they can be as grand or as minimal as you like, and no song seems to have a particular need to sound a certain way – Fisher and the band simply adapt the songs to the arrangements available at the time.  Even in my limited (four gigs) experience, I have heard a lot of these songs played several times, and sound very different each time.  Consequently it’s little surprise that they might want to commit some of these other incarnations to record – in a way it’s a little silly for a band who can sound so different from one gig to another to have only one recorded version of each song available.

As it is the new versions, even when I like them less than the originals, which inevitably happens a couple of times, are wonderful to listen to.  The scratchy renditions of the likes of Ghost of the Girl in the Well actually bring a little more unpleasantness to the song which enhances the rather nasty nature of the original lyrics, similarly with Mary of the Angels. Skeleton is completely different, without the full band drive of the version on Let it Roll, and whilst I prefer the originals of the likes of Fare the Well and Painter Blue, these recordings certainly more than do the songs justice.

Which brings me to why I find this a difficult album to review.  I am a big fan of this band, so I am fascinated by all of these songs, but I genuinely can’t imagine what they would sound like to someone new to the music.  You lose something by the low-fi approach, but you gain something as well, and I know what that brings to someone who knows the music, but if this is the first time you’ve encountered this band then you’re own your own.

In many ways this is entirely representative of their work, and in many ways it really isn’t.  It’s just the sound of a band who like to play with their music exploring what the songs can sound like and giving them a whole new character.  In many ways I am actually just surprised that more groups don’t do this kind of thing.

Willard Grant Conspiracy – Ghost of the Girl in the Well

Willard Grant Conspiracy – Mary of the Angels

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