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Blues Traveler
by Gary Graff
Wall Of Sound, National
May 11th, 2001

Blues Traveler's world has changed quite a bit during the past couple of years, but Blues Traveler's music has not - which is a mixed blessing.

Recovering from the August 1999 death of bassist Bobby Sheehan, the remaining members of the group - once the most commercially successful of the whole jam-band corps - understandably took their time deciding whether or not to continue playing together. After some soul searching, they decided to carry on, and now emerge transformed with a new album. Impressively trimmed-down frontman John Popper (who underwent the same radical stomach-stapling surgery as Carnie Wilson), guitarist Chan Kinchla (who also dropped considerable poundage), and drummer Brendan Hill have two new bandmates: the crucial addition of full-time keyboardist Ben Wilson and Kinchla's brother Tad, who took over on bass as of November 2000.

None of this has altered Blues Traveler's musical conventions, however; the group still mines a blues-based blend that incorporates the loose-limbed groovery of intricate interplay within arrangements that are tight but still open enough to accommodate instrumental forays, mostly by Popper and Chan Kinchla. Not surprisingly, Sheehan's passing is touched on throughout the album, in the sentimental opener "Back in the Day," in the gritty funk of "Rage," and most directly in "Pretty Angry," a delicately constructed seven-minute confessional, dedicated to Sheehan's younger brother Johnny, in which Popper declares, "I don't know which was the bigger waste of time/ Wishing you were there or wishing it was me."

The rest of the album mines standard Blues Traveler terrain, from the atmospheric philosophy of "Decision of the Skies" to the unattainable love lament "Sadly a Fiction," while "Just for Me" continues the rock tradition of mixing human attributes and musical terminology ("Just another I-IV-V/About as cute as can be..."). The members of Blues Traveler, new and old, still play better than they write songs, but there's no denying that the group's indefatigable spirit remains engaging.