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Blues Traveler
by Benji Feldheim
Buzz Magazine online,
May 3rd, 2001

Bands faced with an irreplaceable loss have two options: Give it all up because the music could never be the same, or take the opportunity to change for the better. Following the death of founding member and bassist Bobby Sheehan, Blues Traveler has taken the recovery route with Bridge by rounding out a new band with the addition of veteran keyboardist Ben Wilson. A suitable replacement for bass was found in Tad Kinchla, younger brother of Chan Kinchla, a guitarist and another founding member of Blues Traveler. Kinchla fills Sheehan's niche with a style closely echoing his predecessor.

Ah, but Blues Traveler has changed in other ways as well. John Popper has dropped 120 pounds and chosen to reduce his role as the spotlight soloist on his harmonica to a part of the rhythm section for most of the disc. One can count only two harmonica solos on the entire disc. This is a band flexing a long-dormant, but strong muscle in their new music, as well as newfound talents.

The first two songs show the expected thick-but-light rock sound, yet in "Girl Inside My Head" there is a noticeable warble added to Chan Kinchla's guitar. No, Popper has not even touched his harmonica yet. Wilson's keyboards are introduced to many fans very accustomed to Blues Traveler's quartet sound. He even busts out a jazzy solo to make sure listeners know he is a new element. Instead of harmonica solos, we get an opportunity to hear the elder Kinchla rip two effects-heavy solos on a very dark track titled "Rage." The presence of Popper's harmonica is not felt until "Just For Me," the fourth track on Bridge.

Instead of being a Popper showcase, the entire band gets their chance to strut. On "Pretty Angry (for J. Sheehan)" the band lets us into their healing process. It is a tribute to Sheehan without being a showoff, and it compliments the man it honors. The album continues lightheartedly after this elegy with the feel of the light rock/funk expected from the band, until a thick harmonica/bass intro throws the listener into "You're Burning Me." The song goes through the band's blues influence with a tense sound. "Decision of the Skies" ends the album by complementing everything new in the band: new bass, keyboards, fewer harmonicas and stronger sound. All of these changes and they are still Blues Traveler.

Despite touching on many new elements, the members of Blues Traveler have not forgotten who they are. They will always be a fun rock band with some funky talent. Yet now they have grown in a drastic way for the first time in a decade. Let us pray to see more growth. An A is given if a group can impress in some way on every song on the CD, and that is exactly what Blues Traveler does on Bridge. Keep up the good work, gentlemen.