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Blues Traveler
Straight On Till Morning
by Bob Remstein
Wall Of Sound, National
Nov, 1996

File Under: Busy blues-rock without much emotion

As de facto leaders of the nineties jam-band movement, Blues Traveler has a lot to be proud of. With them as the standard-bearers, all sorts of other like-minded outfits have been able to share in their success; Blues Traveler's vocalist-harpist John Popper even played the harmonica solo on "What Would You Say," the Dave Matthews Band's breakthrough hit. And Blues Traveler more or less founded the HORDE festival, which has grown considerably in stature over the years - unlike, say, Lollapalooza, which seems to field a weaker and less significant lineup each summer.

But the band also has plenty to answer for. Like, do we really need a high-pitched, fairly ear-splitting, seven-hundred-thirty-nine-note harmonica solo in every song? Or, is one solid single ("Run-Around") enough to excuse all the weaker material with which they've filled most of their four studio albums? Album five, Straight On Till Morning, does little to let them off the hook. The perky Latin-inflected jazz-rock of "Felicia" is fairly involving, and "Psycho Joe," with its strangely distorted harmonica and guitar leads, peeks out amidst the drivel. But way too much of this disc is either irritating or uninspired, self-conscious party music, with little space left among the busy instrumental parts and Popper's over-embellished vocal lines for any real emotional feel at all.

"Make My Way," the closing cut, offers a half-baked bid for rootsiness, with its soulful backing vocals, but even here, the no-nonsense passion that the Blues once summoned forth in spades is near-impossible to find. Maybe they could just call themselves Harmonica Traveler.