Stripped of its jam-band context -- locked in the studio that is,
rather than roaming the stage -- Blues Traveler has problems getting very
far. Frontman John Popper plays a mean harmonica, but he lacks the pretty
boy charms (and keening vocal gifts) of a peer like Dave Matthews. He's
also too fond of unwieldy lyric schemes that burden what should be
free-flowing arrangements (though one of those, "Hook," became the band's
big hit). Pitched as a comeback, Truth Be Told is an earnest bid
for more concise music-making. Give Popper credit for the effort. Though
his girth once prompted comparisons to Elvis, the big guy's voice never
has: It's the band's weakest link. But Popper is more limber these days.
"Sweet & Broken" embraces coffeehouse angst, while "Thinnest of Air" roils
with saucy R&B stylings. And these New York hippies prove surprisingly
funky and nimble on "My Blessed Pain," whose groove redeems -- even if the
album, finally, will convince only fellow travelers.