Those who have only heard Zen Tricksters' reputation as a "jam" band and not its actual music might expect the songs on its debut album to be longwinded or dominated by extended instrumental excursions. Instead The Holy Fool is surprisingly soulful with tight, though involved, song structures. In a couple of words, downright poppy, though in a skewed sense of the word, and, in comparison to their concert interplay, rather succinct. Some of the songs seem like melodically slight excuses to play a certain style or utilize a certain musical touch, but mostly the songwriting maintains a high standard. The music is certainly varied: beginning with the jazz-fusion of "Victim of Circumstance," the Tricksters switch from bouncy world music ("Arise") to rootsy folk-rock ("Shine Your Light") to the vaguely gospelish "Not Quite Enough," and "Mother Found a Gun" downright swings. "Done Is Done" riffs on a chunky, country beat, but theZen Tricksters seem incapable of playing something as straight as country without twisting it into something much more involved and fun. Though all the instrumentalists are stellar, the star of the show is Rob Barraco, whose nimble-fingered keyboards always enhance the songs in just the right way. If there is a musical point of contention on The Holy Fool, it may be that the album has an overall studio sheen that doesn't entirely reflect the band's complex, sometimes gritty, musical interaction onstage. Of course, it is natural, even expected, to soften the edges of a live show in the studio, and, if anyone's listening experience is affected, it is most likely to be someone who is already a longtime fan of the band and, thus, more used to the band's live sound. The album also might have benefitted from a consistent lead vocalist. Each member is a solid (though not scintillating) vocalist in his own right, but former lead vocalist Jen Markard (who co-wrote four songs on the album) lends her wonderful vocals to "Homesick," making that song one of strongest efforts on the album. Her presence on the rest of the songs might well have taken The Holy Fool to an even higher level than it has already reached. Still, for most listeners, The Holy Fool is bound to be an enjoyable experience because it is a solid, fun album full of vigorous melodies and beautiful playing.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart