Looking Out the Fishbowl
Eddie From Ohio
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Eddie From Ohio (EFO) is a four-piece Virginia-based folk-rock band. Featuring Robbie Schaefer (guitar and vocals), Julie Murphy Wells (vocals), Michael Clem (bass, harp, guitar, and vocals), and Eddie Hartness (percussion, vocals, and no he's not from Ohio), EFO is not your average female-fronted band. Without the jarring noise of a drum kit, EFO ends up being more mellow than their closest relatives, the Nields, but they can still rock out on occasion. Their live shows have been pleasing audiences since 1991, yet capturing that live magic in the studio has eluded the band for four previous albums (not including their double live disc Portable EFO Show). Looking out the Fishbowl has changed all that.
This is by far EFO's best CD. It succeeds where previous studio efforts failed because of the strength of the songwriting throughout the disc. Much of previous EFO albums seemed to be filler after the first few tracks. Not so here. After the first track and obvious radio single Stupid American, EFO continue to deliver strong, hummable melodies throughout the disc. Written either by Clem or Shaefer, the fifteen songs on Fishbowl range from simple love songs (Shaefer's Woman of Faith, a testament to the strength of his marriage) to hilarious story songs (Clem's Eddie's Concubine, about the mistress of an overweight nightclub owner).
EFO wrote Old Dominion for the official Virginia state song competition. They made it to the semifinals before being eliminated. Nevertheless, it's a fine song and probably a bit too light-hearted for the committee making the selections -- "You think you'll find some mountains in Western Colorado. 50 weeks of snowy peaks is where you're gonna be. But babe the Rocky Mountains are gradually eroding. The hills of Coors are nothing more than Blue Ridge wannabes."
Featuring the all-star backing of Sam Bush (mandolin, fiddle), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Bela Fleck (banjo), and Tony Rice (lead acoustic guitar), Old Dominion is a Bluegrass tour-de-force that is great to hoe-down to.
It's the surprise humor of otherwise serious songs that make this recording so compelling after repeated listening. It is subtle, so pay attention, but the effort is well worth it. An example is Fifth of July, about a recent graduate considering what to do next with his life. But within the song, we are also introduced to a fish in the fishbowl and a dog in the kennel who desire freedom. In the end, fate brings the three of them together.
If you enjoy tight harmonies, smooth melodies, and sometimes dark humor, Looking out the Fishbowl will rank among your favorite contemporary folk albums this year. It is a welcome relief to see that the staunchly independent EFO have finally hit their stride in the studio.
Edited by Jonathan Colcord (firstname.lastname@example.org)