It is difficult, nay nigh on impossible to listen to Split 12″ Vol . 6 without thinking about Robert Fisher. The man who jointly formed and then fronted the American country-noir collective Willard Grant Conspiracy for more than 20 years sadly died of cancer last month. And whilst WGC may only contribute one quarter of Split 12″ Vol . 6’s dozen tracks, Fisher’s huge presence permeates this entire record.
A couple of years back Fisher, along with his fellow WGC band members Jonah Sacks and David Curry were passing through Scotland when Matthew Young (founder of the Edinburgh-based independent record label Song, By Toad) asked them if they would record some songs for a Split 12” he had in mind. The three men cut eight tracks at The Happiness Hotel, the DIY imprint’s warehouse recording space in Leith. Three of these songs ultimately made it onto the label’s sixth Split 12” release.
Split 12″ Vol . 6 opens with WGC and ‘Light A Candle’, the instrumental’s plaintive viola and cello strings casting a great shadow of solemnity from which the record only ever briefly emerges. Four songs later and Robert Fisher’s glorious, sonorous baritone is first heard on WGC’s second contribution to the album, ‘The Only Child’. “Mary, Mary, not so contrary” he sings, the dark intonation of his words reflecting many of the ecclesiastical changes that lie at the very heart of the nursery rhyme from where the opening line is derived. WGC’s final offering on Split 12″ Vol . 6 is ‘Love You Apart’ which offers us both bleakness and beauty, a high-wire balancing act that Fisher had crafted to quiet perfection over the previous two decades.
But for all that Split 12″ Vol . 6 is shot through with the memory of Robert Fisher and the sound of Willard Grant Conspiracy the album still features three other significant contributions courtesy of Tissø Lake, Micah P. Hinson and Kitchen Cynics who in the true spirit of musical democracy also each supply three songs to the final product.
The recording project of Ian Humberstone (he of Folklore Tapes fame), Tissø Lake captures perfectly the gentle contours of an undulating, natural world. With his half-spoken half-sung vocals on ‘When Work Is Done’ Humberstone traces the warmth and simple elegance of Kurt Wagner and Lambchop’s understated country-soul, whilst the ‘The Mist On The Lake’ and ‘I Am Like A Lake’ embody the still, textured beauty of the countryside.
On his three offerings, Texan Micah P. Hinson treats us to a gorgeous amalgam of melancholia and fragile optimism. ‘Spaceman’ is a thing of great cosmic beauty. ‘Changes’ – perhaps the stand-out song on the entire record – deals in those familiar Hinson currencies of loneliness and heartbreak, whilst the album’s closer, the gospel-tinged ‘Everlasting Arms’ is similarly imbued with a cracked despondency.
It is left to the Aberdonian folk-singer Alan Davidson – the man who is Kitchen Cynics – to lighten the prevailing mood as he punctures the enveloping darkness with his wry social observations and a lightness of touch. On the charming ‘The Place You Hid’ he brings to amusing life the uncomfortable transience of those half-forgotten brief romantic encounters. Yet for all of Davidson’s gentle humour the lasting impression upon listening to Split 12″ Vol. 6 is one of overwhelming sadness at the tremendous sense of loss felt by the premature passing of Robert Fisher.
Split 12” Vol. 6 will be released on 24th March 2017 through Song, By Toad Records.