Trippers & Askers: Acorn | ★★★★½ | Sleepy Cat Records; July 16, 2021

Acorn Album Release Party  | July 16, 7 p.m. | Shadowbox Studio, Durham

There’s something about Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Once you’ve interacted with her remarkably prophetic vision of the near future, you begin to see it referenced everywhere.

The radical acceptance and resilience the novel outlines in its Earthseed religion—the notion that god is change, and that individuals have the agency to shape their situation and create community—are strangely irresistible to many artists.

Trippers & Askers, the band of former Durhamite and current Ashevillian Jay Hammond, is certainly not the first group to use this novel as a springboard, and on new album Acorn, he treats it more as source for allegory than as a narrative to be recounted.

The album’s two halves roughly divide into visions of childhood and adulthood, of empathy and observation, with detours to a gentrifying New York City and the streets of New Orleans. Both sides end with explicit invocations of Parable, tying together all the fleeting references that dot the rest of the album.

Hammond has a keen eye for the way we interact with each other and the meanings that flow from those interactions.

In the song “Henry,” which opens the second half of the album, he recounts a passing interaction with an elderly homeless man on the street, unpacking all the charged layers of race, class, and so forth that divide them with the awareness of an anthropologist. He wants to relate to the man but notes that “what I think isn’t worth a dime at the shelter/ or on the street, there’s not a feeling that flows hard enough.”

Ultimately, though, Hammond sings to end the chorus, “You learned my name, said thanks, and walked away.”

Surrounding all these observations is a veritable who’s who of the Durham scene including Joe Westerlund on drums, Andy Stack (Wye Oak, Joyero) on saxophone, Ken Moshesh (Sun Ra Arkestra) on percussion, Joseph O’Connell (Elephant Micah) on organ, and Chessa Rich on vocals and keyboards. Together, they put a distinctive spin on the Southern folk/rock sound of local folks like Hiss Golden Messenger or H.C. McEntire.

Hammond’s melodies are at once well-worn and unusual, and the arrangements burst with color, like the spacious mix of saxophone, organ, and pedal steel in “Pulsing Place.” Nobody is in a rush and changes come exactly when they need to. And then there’s the driving psych of album closer “Making Forests,” where guitar, organ, and saz continually rise up to the sun as “we marvel at what we made.”

Throughout, Hammond is seeking community. It’s safe to say he finds it. 

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.

Comment on this story at