Robert Fisher, the band’s founder, singer and guiding force, passed away as a result of cancer in February 2017, but not before he’d laid down the tracks that now form this 10th and final album. Dusted down and hewn into shape by long-time viola player David Michael Curry, with contributions from such names as Steve Wynn and Chris Brokaw, Untethered is a terrific last testament, albeit the familiar melancholic and intimate mood given added resonance by Fisher’s death.
It opens, however, in more robust manner with the abrasive and distorted sound of the two-minute ‘Hideous Beast’ more recalling the work of Captain Beefheart. After this, things settle down into the band’s more familiar languid and melancholic style, perfect examples presenting themselves in ‘Do No Harm’, ‘Love You Apart’ and ‘26 Turns’ with its barely there semi-spoken vocals.
There’s four instrumentals, the poignantly titled ‘All We Have Left’, the simple, viola-based ‘Two Step’, the shimmeringly beautiful ‘Margaret On The Porch’ and the album’s pointedly titled six minute closer ‘Trail’s End’ which brings down the curtain in brooding and at times experimental almost improvisational style (much like the earlier ‘Chasing Rabbits’) with guitar distortions, reverb and effects that feels like being in the middle of desert electrical storm.
It is, however, Fisher’s voice, words and delivery that are the band’s legacy, and three numbers in particular stand out, the spare, forlorn viola-coloured ‘Let The Storm Be Your Pilot’ as he sings “your goodness will save us, you are my reason for waking”, the gorgeous warm and achingly intimate Lou Reed-like ‘Saturday With Jane’ and the simply strummed title track, the song he wrote after he was diagnosed, the semi-spoken lines “Take the last train to the station/Keep my eyes open while I can/Hope we get back home by morning/See the sunrise on the desert once again” suffused with the dignity of acceptance in a way that tears you apart.
The album never began as a farewell, but Curry has crafted it into a moving valediction as his late friend and musical partner sings himself away into immortality.
Artists’ website: www.willardgrantconspiracy.com