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Blues Traveler
Straight On Till Morning
by Michael Roberts
Westword, National
Nov, 1996



Since the birth of rock and roll, the rise of teen idols has been a surefire indicator of a terrible period in popular music - and indeed, the recent successes of acts like Hanson and Robyn have come at a time when the rock scene is as wretched as it's been in recent memory. As was the case during the Fabian years of the late Fifties and early Sixties and the Donny Osmond blight of the Seventies, innovation and moxie have been replaced by blatant redundancy and shallow professionalism. Recordings that suffer from these flaws are tiresome to review; complaining about skilled but hackneyed musicians spinning out flabby, unimaginative variations on styles that weren't all that fresh in 1972 can get old after a while.

But since critics don't go into suspended animation during boring cycles such as this one, they find themselves in the position of analyzing such dross simply because it's popular. Moreover, plenty of scribes fall into the trap of overpraising a disc that is clearly second-rate in order to avoid being viewed as a hopeless misanthrope.

But not me. I'm drawing a line in the sand right here, right now - and Straight On Till Morning made me do it. You see, I listened to this snooze-worthy patience-tester from beginning to end, and after being subjected to well over an hour of relentless blandness, I discovered that (surprise) there was nothing new to say about it. John Popper's singing is good enough to get him a gig with the reunited Canned Heat, but that's about it; his harmonica playing, while undeniably virtuosic, often has a striking soullessness about it (at times, it almost sounds like a synthesizer); his moronic lyrics, epitomized by "It's a tool/And it's cool/And hell, I ain't no fool to screw the rule," from the aptly titled "Business As Usual," contain fewer bright ideas than the average Bob Dornan speech; and the band's distended, solo-laden boogies go where jam practitioners have gone innumerable times before - and they don't bother to take a different route to get there. So why bother even talking about these guys? I mean, what's the point? People thick enough to like this stuff will buy it no matter what I say, and those who recognize it for the played-out piece of product that it is don't need me to confirm their good taste for them. I'll lend an ear to the next Blues Traveler album, and I'll check out the next offerings from other similarly banal combos as well, because I believe that listening to some of every recording that lands on my desk is an important responsibility.

Likewise, I'll be happy to figuratively eat these words if, by some bizarre twist of fate, Popper and company come out with something more intriguing than their past efforts. But if their subsequent CDs are not essentially different from Morning - and I strongly suspect that they won't be - I will not discuss it in these pages. In other words, this is the last Blues Traveler critique I'll have to write in the foreseeable future. The sound you hear is me jumping for joy.