Willard Grant Conspiracy | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Willard Grant Conspiracy


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Singer Robert Fisher has called his Boston-based Americana collective a "happy accident," and he and the other core member, guitarist Paul Austin, have done everything they can to preserve its ambling, after-dinner-jam spontaneity. The two were playing together in a Boston hard-rock outfit called the Flower Tamers when their drummer, Malcolm Travis, left town to tour with Sugar and their guitarist, Dana Hollowell, invited them to mess around in his new home studio. In 1996 the results of those sessions became the first WGC album, 3 AM Sunday @ Fortune Otto's, and a rabid cult following in Europe has since propelled the duo through three more studio LPs with a gallery of more than two dozen musicians, including Edith Frost, Chris Brokaw of Come, Walter Salas-Humara of the Silos, and Chris Eckman and Carla Torgerson of the Walkabouts. Fisher has professed his love of Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes, raving to one interviewer about "that kind of looseness that delivers the song but also expresses the joy of creating it in the moment it happens." On their best album, 1999's Mojave, he and Austin accomplished this by recording the guitar and vocals first and encouraging the additional players to go for the first take; on the follow-up, Everything's Fine (Rykodisc), they went the traditional route of cutting the rhythm tracks first, the better to accommodate the grand piano, but the 11 songs were rehearsed in only nine hours. As usual, Fisher waltzes with death (literally--half the songs are in 3/4 or 6/8), his mournful baritone like tree bark against the Indian-summer foliage of guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro, cello, and viola. He's complained that people miss the humor in his lyrics; if you're in the mood for a good gut laugh, the narrators include a man on his deathbed ("Notes From the Waiting Room"), a frustrated gambler ("Christmas in Nevada"), a modern-day Cain ("Wicked"), and a pair of hopeless alcoholics ("Drunkard's Prayer," "Closing Time"). Monday, April 16, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tom Sheehan.

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