Three years after Items, Headless Household delivered its fourth disc. Although the four members of the band (Joe Woodard, Dick Dunlap, Tom Lackner, and Chris Symer) remain the same and the roaster of guest musicians is similar, Free Associations is quite different and less accomplished than its predecessor.
One can find the usual eclecticism of Headless Household as they venture into jazz, blues, country, song format, etc. But where this variety on Items was perceived as controlled and belonging to a whole, here it fails to convince. Up front, Free Associations is a lot more accessible (as in "commercial"): The band doesn't take things to extremes. The blues song sounds really bluesy, and the little jazz ballads are nothing else (and nothing more) than little jazz ballads. Less surprises, less craziness. The band's sound on this one gets closer to late-'90s Phish (more lyrics, more song oriented) than to Frank Zappa like on Items. Still, the musicians keep playing with great chops and ideas abound. It's just a lot straighter in form. Without the experimental off-the-wall stuff that tied the previous album together, Free Associations makes Headless Household sound like a band still uncertain of what it should sound like.