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Blues Traveler
by Dave Brock
UWM Leader, Milwaukee, WI
Nov 13th, 2002



While Blues Traveler's prosperous career has brought them six studio albums with substantial success, the band and their loyal fans are well aware that these efforts rank low in comparison to their live performances. The band's new release Live... promises no letdowns, and proves to exemplify the live experience.

Blues Traveler's first official live release, 1996's double-CD set Live From The Fall, proved to be a major success. It reached out to all fans, with familiar hits such as "Run-Around", "Hook", and "But Anyway", as well as tunes that long-time fans could appreciate. Blues Traveler's latest release seems to mostly benefit the latter, as their long jams and talented improvisations suggest. However, there are a few gems for casual fans as the radio-friendly "Back In The Day" and "Carolina Blues" are featured.

Recorded from various live performances spanning from September to December 2001, the recording has special meaning to the New York City based band (as the title suggests). As the band started recording two weeks after the September 11 tragedies, the band "humbly dedicates this album to [the New Yorkers] effort, to their healing and we embrace the wound as ours to bear as well."

Accordingly, frontman John Popper starts off the album with an emotionally powerful rendition of the "The Star-Spangled Banner." Popper, often referred to as "the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica," evokes a Hendrix-like performance reminiscent of the guitar legend's Woodstock spectacle. If not familiar with this harmonica virtuoso, this performance quickly makes a believer out of anyone, and prepares the listener for what is to come in the next ten tracks. The rhythm section of bassist Tad Kinchla and drummer Brendan Hill shine bright, while fiery guitarist Chan Kinchla and Ben Wilson's keyboards can do no harm.

Live... includes tracks that can be found on Blues Traveler's prior releases, with the exception of "Pattern." This new song abides to the band's time-tested formula of Popper's fierce harmonica playing and vocal range, as well as funky bass runs, pounding drums, and guitar licks that complement Popper's playing quite nicely. Other highlights include "Reach Me," an eight-minute extended jam; "Rage," with Popper and guest musician Carl Young displaying his saxophone talents; and "All Hands," a hard-hitting tune originally written in the mourning of former bassist Billy Sheehan's death.

As the album's name suggests, Blues Traveler has traveled to hell and back. Difficulties with record companies, the sudden passing of a band member, and terrorism's effects could have destroyed them. But these difficulties have only made the band stronger, and they sure don't plan on letting down anytime soon. (7 of 8)