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Blues Traveler
Blues Traveler
by Bob Pierce
The Daily Vault, National
Dec 4th, 1997



Geez, has it really been almost six months since I dug something by Blues Traveler out of the Pierce Archives (Santa: please bring me a copy of Y Kant Tori Read)?

After the breakthrough success that John Popper and crew had with "Run-Around" off of four, radio started to re-discover Blues Traveler's older works, latching onto "But Anyway" from their self-titled debut. (Placement in the film Kingpin also didn't hurt - it featured the band dressed in Amish gear jamming away.)

The problem was that radio didn't explore Blues Traveler further - while it is an album that strikes me differently each time I listen to it, it is a solid effort that should have won the band fame right out of the starting gate.

In the course of 58 minutes, Popper changes the role of harmonica in music to a solo instrument - he does things to a harp that I didn't think were possible. Chan Kinchla wrenches every note he can out of his guitar to create some very interesting guitar solos. Bassist Bobby Sheehan and drummer Brendan Hill's roles are just as important, for the rhythmic backbone of Blues Traveler is key to its tight-but-loose sound.

"But Anyway" has been played so much that I think we can pass it by without much comment. Much of the success that Blues Traveler has on this album occurs when they turn to the power ballad. Songs like "Crystal Flame" and "Alone" show the power of Blues Traveler when they put some thought into their work.

But the most striking performance here comes on "100 Years," another power ballad featuring the backing vocals of one Joan Osborne (who would achieve her own fame a few years later); her vocals blend well with Popper's, and the end result is nothing short of beautiful.

When Blues Traveler breaks out of the power ballad mode, the end result is often spotty. Cuts like "Dropping Some NYC" and "Sweet Talking Hippie" go over quite well, while "Gina" fails to spark any interest in me. However, this is not an indictment against Blues Traveler doing straight-out rock; as evidenced by "But Anyway," they know how to rip it out just as well.

The only real negative about Blues Traveler is that it is very much a mood album; if you're not in the right frame of mind when you slap it into the deck, the album won't have the same level of power than if you were really psyched to listen to it. Sounds silly, I know, but it took several listens over the course of a year before I finally got into this one. (Maybe I was expecting something like their second album Travelers and Thieves, which was the first taste I got of the band.)

Blues Traveler may get you interested due to the success of "But Anyway", but it's when you look past the hit that the true beauty of this album comes through. Give it a listen or three, and discover the power that is within... but don't be discouraged if it doesn't hit you immediately.