Like a lot of the folk revival album of the last decade, Tripper sounds very 1970s. It’s gentle, toe-tapping pace, its use of twinkling and sweeping major chords and warm pianos, is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
More idiosyncratically, though, it also holds a number of associations with The Beatles, or so it would seem. First, its semi-psychedelic folk isn’t a million miles away from that of the Fab Four; second, singer and chief songwriter Eric D. Johnson, on this record more than ever, sounds a lot like John Lennon. When Johnson, who has one of the nicest voices going, hits high notes – and the use of double tracking on the voice aids the comparison – he sounds just like the man himself on some of his earliest solo tracks (‘Hold On’ is a good example), and the likes of ‘Just Like Starting Over’.
The Fruit Bats’ choice of playful, often de-contextualised and sometimes strange or even nonsensical song titles further hints at the link – across this album’s eleven tracks we find ‘Tony the Tripper’, ‘Picture of a Bird’, ‘You’re Too Weird’. The album’s best track, ‘Heart Like an Orange’, on which Johnson sounds at his most Lennonesque, could be a title straight from Lennon’s own repertoire.
All of these elements are certainly strengths of what is a very good album. Musically exuberant, often happiness-inducing, it doesn’t have a bad track, and right from the opener, ‘Tony the Tripper’, it’s impressive; through ‘Tangie and Ray’, ‘Heart Like and ‘Dolly’ it’s fun loving; from ‘Banishment Song’ and ‘Dolly’ to ‘Wild Honey’, it is wistful, slightly sad, and with soul. Buy this album.
Words: Chris Woolfrey