Looking Out The Fishbowl is the sixth album from popular indie folk-rock Eddie from Ohio, released in 1999. The group, like The Grateful Dead and Phish, is much more well known for their touring, occasionally releasing albums on their own Virginia Soul record label, on which this album was released.
The sound of this rather-obscure group is a real mix of stuff. The lyrics are a bit on the quirky side, and the sound itself is a blend of bluegrass, folk, calypso, jazz, acoustic blues, pop, and rock, without really fitting distinctly in any of these genres. Of well-known mainstream artists, the most similar outfit that my mind can conceive of is 10,000 Maniacs, but their music is really all over the place, only tied together by the distinctive sound of lead vocalist Julie Murphy's voice and the instinctive sense of melody.
If you're interested in hearing Eddie from Ohio, there's probably not a better choice than Looking Out The Fishbowl for a first album purchase. It's long, totaling sixty five minutes and twenty four seconds with fifteen tracks; it includes a few of their signature songs (the first three tracks are among their top concert staples); and, perhaps more vital than anything, like Eddie from Ohio in concert, this album moves in a lot of different directions.
The album opens with the most obvious attempt at a mainstream pop hit that I've ever heard from EfO, Stupid American (3:31). The lyrics tell a tale of a woman in love with a French man who doesn't speak English and the cultural and lingual differences between the two of them. This song can probably be filed directly into the pop category, with a bouncy sound laden with hooks.
Fifth Of July (4:24) is almost as poppy as the first track, aided with an interesting use of a Hammond organ. The lyrics tell the oddly humorous tale of a person deciding what to do after college; hence the title, what to do once the excitement and thrill of freedom has worn off?
The next song was one the group entered in Virginia's state song competition. Old Dominion (4:24), after the first two poppy tracks, stands out with a bluegrass sound (a banjo, a dobro, a mandolin, a fiddle, and some acoustic guitars can be heard) and some very nice harmonization. It unfortunately didn't win the state song competition, but we do get a nice recording of it here.
From Dacca (5:53) is a very jazzy number about a missionary who goes to Bangladesh, feels really out of place, and just longs to go home, then goes home to realize home isn't what his mind had made it out to be. Julie Murphy's vocals flow very well here, especially during the choruses.
Woman Of Faith (4:37) stands out for no other reason than Julie Murphy's not on lead vocals. Michael Clem sings here instead, which is appropriate; this song is about his strong marriage.
Julie Murphy returns on Good At That (3:01), a folky song about not knowing what to do with your life, thinking about it, and realizing what in fact you are good at. Julie's voice shows off its range here, which is somewhat odd on a folk-style song, but attribute that to the unusual mix of styles that EfO combines.
Minnesota 1945 (5:06) is a gorgeous tale of a mixed racial couple in Minnesota in 1945. It's such a mellow tale about acceptance and love above all that it can't help but grab your attention.
Irish Deam (3:01) is an Irish-styled song about a first love and wanting that mystery all over again. The unusual instrumentation really gets you here; I learned what a bodhran is, and the Irish styled dance steps in the background added something special too.
The album's most oddly humorous song is Eddie's Concubine (5:04), the tale of a mistress of an overweight nightclub owner. The chorus is one of those that gets stuck in your head; I find myself (badly) imitating Julie Murphy's vocals from this song in the shower. It's done with sort of a ska-ish beat, almost, without the horn section; another unusal sound.
Loitering In The Lobby (4:22) is another folky styled song with some nice harmonization during the choruses. It has nearly indecipherable lyrics, but Julie's vocal delivery is as beautiful as always.
Bleecker To Broadway (4:52) is about a girl merely enjoying life, but being treated as though she's crazy for this unabated joy of life. The music is mellow and soft, but almost too similar to the previous track... the album seems to drag a bit around here.
Things change pace again, though, on the next track. Twenty Thousand Hearts (4:37) has Michael Clem on vocals again, with some nice harmonization on the choruses, in this tale of wandering the world together, but in the end needing emotional distance.
Maylee, I Had A Dream (3:43) has the most bizarrely humorous lyrics on the album, about a relationship nearing its end. The acoustic guitar and Julie's vocals have some very nice interplay during the verses, and the choruses have some pleasant harmonization.
The album nears its end with Bonny Brook (4:12) uses a fiddle and accordion to sound so amazingly familiar, yet so unusual, that it is amazing to my ears. Michael Clem is on lead vocals here again for at least part of the song; his voice and the fiddle make for a shocking change from the song before. The song eventually reveals itself as a duet about unrequited love, but the fiddle and accordion add an interesting flavor to it.
The closer, Atlantic (4:37), is a low-key song about a long distance relationship. It's a very appropriate, mellow closer to the album that really ties together the whole album, as a good closer should do.
This album is a long, eclectic mix with some very nice lyrics, instrumentation, and vocals. If you liked this album, try to pick up anything else by the group, you will go to the moon by Moxy Früvous, or Love Among The Ruins by 10,000 Maniacs; these are all similar in nature and quite good.