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
"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.