Glorious fifth album proper from ever-shifting Bostonians reaches down through the years

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Tricks Of The Trad

With the praise afforded 2000’s Everything’s Fine, WGC seemed to have reached a critical plateau. After the quasi-psychedelic debut album 3am Sunday@ Fortune Otto’s in 1996, the collective built around founder members Robert Fisher (vocals) and Paul Austin (guitar) began purveying a doom-laden strain of alt.country on 1998’s Flying Low and the following year’s Mojave. Central to WGC’s campfire folk sorrow was the exorcising of demons, particularly the self-loathing and emotional dislocation that had driven Fisher to pills and booze at a tender age. By (the only semi-ironically titled) Everything’s Fine, the singer appeared to have swapped the sauce for the healing waters of music. That record, compared in Uncut to Lambchop’s Nixon, seemed unassailable. Until now.

What strikes you first about Regard The End is the sheer bloodied power of Fisher’s voice, around which everything else spins. It is a voice that defines a mood and ushers in depths of feeling that renders much of their back catalogue redundant overnight. On Flying Low, for instance, he was forever vying for space with tough acoustic guitars, drums and studio trickery, so that for every unadorned “Evening Mass”there was the distorted vocal mix of “August List”. Even Everything’s Fine now sounds as though Fisher was holding back, its more conventional band format denying the space around the vocal which puts Regard The End in such dramatic relief. Compared to Fisher’s deep-swamp baritone here, only the former’s “Wicked”and “Ballad Of John Parker”tap into the same wellspring.

The second point of major departure is the way Fisher now delves into traditional folk forms, informed as much by Celtic/European styles as the turn-of-the-century rusticity of Greil Marcus’ “old, weird America”. Recorded in Slovenia (where Fisher hooked up with ally Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts), Boston and London, Regard The End stitches four traditional songs into seven originals without exposing the seams.

This time, Paul Austin uses occasional members, making way for multi-instrumentalist Simon Alpin (most recently seen pumping keyboards on the Teenage Fanclub tour), who also co-produces. With Fisher leading from the front (