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When Kathy Fisher and Ron Wasserman joined to form Fisher in 1998, they started a wild rollercoaster ride. Right off the bat, they placed a song on the soundtrack to Great Expectations, recorded an album, became a digital download success with their first album (One) and signed a recording deal with Universal. Stardom, just around the corner, dissipated after distribution for their 2001 UMG release, True North, went south and the band found themselves kicked to the curb with a number of other artists supposedly unworthy of major label support. Rather than rest on laurels or waste time licking wounds, they grabbed machetes and hacked their way through jungle growth growing in the retreating music industry wake. Blazing trails from project to project, they went from major label artists to independent creators of anything and everything, placing songs on and between TV programs, for movies, producing jingles and basically honing their craft.

Kathy Fisher performs I Will Love You from True North

Between commercial projects, they morph into true musicians, stepping over the very fine line into art. Two more excellent albums saw light of day, Uppers & Downers (2002) and The Lovely Years (2005), each riding on the exceptional voice of Fisher and the outstanding arrangements of Wasserman. Chock full of pop tunes ranging from upbeat and downright happy to beautiful and heart wrenching, the albums tend to drive nails in the looming coffin of Universal's music arm. I've heard many of Universal's recent releases. Most do not even come close.

This year's Water takes a bit further, even, Kathy Fisher's superb phrasing a touch more mature (or maybe it's the material) and Wasserman's production and arrangements impeccable. From the slightly upbeat opener Breathe, voice of magic and backing piano sets the mood until band kicks in and you can't help but get it, the bridge with its heavy reverb and echo on bass and guitar prefacing the ending. Hollywood reflects a Jobim-like acoustic guitar presence at the beginning, giving way to solid rock before returning and then returning again, if you can follow that. Wasserman pushes Fisher's voice through one of those ridiculous electronic chambers which are so popular these days, but does it so that you barely notice (he swears he recorded the vocals in numerous ways and passed the results by many knowledgeable people before settling upon the take, and I believe him). The result is one of those songs which gets inside the head and won't let go. I'll Be Okay is a virtual pop masterpiece, lyrics masterfully written and presented (“So may all your dreams come true/May your meds kick in for you/And show you the way/I'll be okay”), although I first heard it as “May your Mets kick in for you”, which would work for a percentage of the jerks out there deserving such attitude. This one never fails to make me laugh, sometimes out loud. Dance hall piano and pop attitude take Wonderful World into the realm of Target and Kohl's, perfectly positive and very Perfect Day-like (great for selling product, I suppose, which is why Kathy Fisher is sought after as your “jingle” voice).

Fisher has a softer side as well. Rain looks at God as human, as frustrated as we all are with the way of the world. Listen for the descending keyboard run at the end of the bridge, the whole song encapsulated in seven chords before the dynamic finale. I don't think there is a more beautiful song written than Words, though there are probably many equals, and the simple chord change on the final verse fading into a floating cloud of synthesizer is entrancing.

The album is dedicated to one Dan Fisher, Kathy's father. He passed away while doing one of the things he really loved doing--- fishing. When I asked about him, Kathy sent a nice note and a picture of Dan. He's sitting in his boat, a handsome and healthy man, waving toward the camera--- in his element. He drowned while fishing one day, strange in that he was a good swimmer and knew his way around the waters. Some time later, they found that he had had a massive heart attack. Kathy took it hard, of course, and worked through the sadness through her music. Victims of the Sky is an incredibly personal look at the day she heard of her father's death, so personal that you almost feel like you're invading privacy. She says right in the song that it was “a truly awful day” but unless you know you miss it, which is why I tell you. There is something both dramatic and haunting in her voice, supported by a spiritual aura of piano and orchestra. It builds to crescendo at the end, more reflective than sad, something Dan Fisher would more than likely would have wanted. In the picture, he looks like a man who would want those he loves to look forward with a kind eye to the past. There is no doubt that he would have approved. In fact, maybe he does.

From the time Dan passed away until they found out about the heart attack, the family was unsettled. Wasserman wrote Water Burial in such a state of mind. There is always a need to understand such situations and the pieces didn't quite fit, so he asked the questions which usually go unasked. Surreal and otherworldly, the song floats on orchestral wings, cinematic to just the right degree, right down to the end--- Kathy's simple and quiet intake of breath. You don't orchestrate endings like that. They just happen.

I know I've left songs unattended here. Believe me, it is not because they are lesser. This is one of a few albums this year, in fact, which has no lesser. If the clown at Universal (or group of clowns) who choreographed Fisher's UMG demise hears this, I hope there is enough of a heart left to realize his blunder. Truth be told, I think Fisher took most of what was left of Universal's heart with them. I'll bet after a few listens to Water, you'll agree.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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