Eric Johnson has poked and prodded at the Fruit Bats for years, reinventing the band's lineup with every album and continually stretching the boundaries between pop, Americana, and sun-soaked folk. Released after a four-year hiatus, during which time Johnson worked as a sideman for Vetiver and the Shins, The Ruminant Band features yet another cast of characters, few of whom have worked with the Fruit Bats before. Nonetheless, this is a thoroughly collaborative release, featuring production from the band's own drummer and contributions from the whole five-piece family. Johnson remains in the director's chair, but he looks to his bandmates to add depth to the material, from the title track's '70s-styled strut to the saloon-bound twang of "The Hobo Girl." "I'll always keep you warm, I'll always keep you nice, I'll never snow on your parade," he promises during "Tegucigalpa," and most of the album follows that pledge, eschewing any sort of inclement weather in favor of sunny country-rock and summery ambiance. Johnson's lyrics do explore darker territory, including the "aching dehydrated dawn" that arises during "My Unusual Friend" and the loveless trip to a Three Dog Night concert that's detailed in "Singing Joy to the World." The Ruminant Band is generally a happy affair, though, and cameo appearances by Califone's Tim Rutili and Jim Becker help chart the Fruit Bats' migration from bedroom side project to full-fledged band.
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AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey