The center has held, more or less, over the past 15 years. Things have changed/stayed the same. Politicians have sinned, theologians have sighed, and the price of potatoes has oscillated. And the combo known as Headless Household still doesn't know what to make of itself. Such is the socio-musical backdrop against which the band's fourth feature-length album, Free Associations, has come into being. As the album title implies, the group relies on the kindness of outside associates to freely contribute, instrumentally and vocally. A running theme is the associative imperative: musicians often engage in dogpile dialogues, i.e. talking at the same time, in the interest of a richer musical experience. As usual, style is an elusive, additive thing, ushering in C&W, blues, free jazz, brooding ballads, art rockishness, cabaret, conceptual trickery, broken CD players, and other ideas turned into sounds. Headless Household stubbornly remains: Dick Dunlap, keyboards, Tom Lackner, drums and percussion, Chris Symer, bass, and Joe Woodard, guitar and songsmithing. Guests on the album include the ace trumpeter Jeff (Les McCann) Elliott is featured voice on both the airy ballad "Requiem for a Vacant Lot" and the electric voodoo era-Miles tribute "Green Swipe Pattern." In the vocal dept. We find the lovely Julie Christensen in a campy vampy reading of "The Eiffel Tower Made Easy," Jennifer Terran singing a sideways blues, "My Baby Left Brain," and Ellen Turner waxing ethereal on "The Real of the Lake." Marjorie Extract also appears in a duet with Glen (ex-Toad the Wet Sprocket) Phillips on the loopy C&W ditty "Honey, I'm Home," also with Bill Flores on pedal steel guitar and Santa Barbara's impish virtuoso fiddler Gilles Apap. He becomes more of a violinist on the moody "Sullen Gypsum," joined by frequent Household abettor, trumpeter Nate Birkey. Beloved newspaperman Nick Welsh makes his unwitting debut with the band as lyricist for the free grunge tune "Angry Poodle," named after his ever-popular, ever-witty and biting column "angry poodle Barbecue," in the Santa Barbara Independent. Irrepressible horn man Jeff Kaiser supplies the proper improv sonic rhetoric on the tune. Pianist Theo Saunders joins Dunlap on "Requiem" and takes off and out on "Man (with) Hat (and) Tan." Saxophonists Tom Buckner and Dave (Lost Tribe, David Binney) Binney team up on the rubberfunky "Tiddly Wink" and the "fragMentor," closing the CD on an abstractionist's note. Noted music writer and cross-cultural traveler Richard Gehr says in his liner notes: "Where do our memories of other music end and the shock of the new begin? Don't ask me. I've heard far too much by now to ever wipe away the past with some sort of mental Windex." We know the feeling.