Grant Lee Phillips

Grant-Lee Phillips – Widdershins (Yep Roc)

Widdershins…it’s an old word. Moving counterclockwise, spiraling backwards. This album begs the question, “In what direction are we moving?” So says Grant-Lee Phillips of his new album’s intriguing title.

It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves I suppose, I certainly have, and have yet to come up with an answer.

Phillips is responsible for at least two of the records in my (by no means extensive) collection, one of which would definitely make my top 20 best album list. 1993’s Fuzzy, the debut by his band Grant Lee Buffalo, is no less than a masterpiece. The songwriting and performances are sublime, the production perfect and the overall sound unique. It’s an album I dig out on a fairly regular basis and often find myself yelling out the words “I’ve been lied to and I’m fuzzy” It was, and remains to this day, the perfect antidote to the world’s addiction to what we used to call “grunge”. In my eyes at least, they kicked the crap out of THAT 3 piece from Seattle!

Anyway, that was then, and this is now, and Widdershins has landed on my laptop. A lot has happened in the last 25 years, to both myself and Phillips no doubt. Musically though, things for Grant-Lee haven’t changed too much. Not that that’s a bad thing, you understand, far from it, this album is pretty good and (understandably) reminds me of his earlier work and GLB in many places. Phillips has a unique guitar sound, loads of distorted acoustics, 12 strings and there is a bit of Nashville-influenced twang in there too (he lives there now, I believe). The production is slightly rough around the edges, organic and earthy, and the whole thing was recorded (mainly live) quickly in just 4 days. This is a good thing, as too often things can get lost in the layering process. This album sounds like three musicians, taking a few days to learn some songs, then going into a room and making a load of noise with some microphones nearby! Overdubs appear to have been kept low-key, odd bits of guitar, keys and even cello appear here and there, but it’s all nicely understated.

The opening ‘Walking In Circles‘ romps along with big guitars, reverb-soaked drums and nicely understated bass that reminds me of an over-excited Lloyd Cole (and his Commotions) performing ‘Perfect Skin‘ on steroids. Whilst other tracks remind me of Elvis Costello, REM, The Waterboys, The Clash and, even more bizarrely, The Boomtown Rats! Of course there are songs that, if you’re a fan, are kind of familiar. For instance, ‘Something’s Gotta Give‘ could easily be an out-take from Mighty Joe Moon, and ‘The Wilderness‘ from Fuzzy, but tracks like ‘Miss Betsy‘ are reminiscent of something that fellow Nashville resident Langhorne Slim might produce. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but there is a certain amount of humour amongst the subject matter of fear, paranoia, uncertainty, and despair on display here, and I had to smile quietly to myself whilst listening at times. The fact that a Californian, living in Tennessee, has produced such an “English” sounding record tickles me, so maybe that’s it?

Whilst there is nothing on this album that jumps out at me and grabs me by the throat – I won’t find myself singing the chorus of ‘Totally You Gunslinger‘ or ‘Great Acceleration‘ to myself in the car in 20 years (or even in 2 years) like I do with ‘Jupiter And Teardrop‘, it is still a good album. It’s just that it’s not quite a great album. After repeated listens though, it’s growing on me and it certainly will be far from the worst album you’ll hear this year. Recommended.

Widdershins is out now on Yep Roc.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.