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Blues Traveler takes new musical path
But band will perform its classics at AVA
by Gerald M. Gay
Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, AZ
Aug 18th, 2005

Members of the rock group Blues Traveler knew exactly which direction they were headed when they sat down to create their upcoming release, ¡Bastardos! due out next month.

"We pushed to do things to please ourselves for once," said keyboardist Ben Wilson in a phone call last week from Austin, Texas. "We pursued the things we liked and made sure that we were all happy with the results."

That meant taking a different path than the band had done on its past few albums, Wilson said. Blues Traveler - which plays Casino Del Sol's AVA next Thursday - has always enjoyed a certain level of originality with its unique rhythms and wailin' harmonica style. But in recent years, the band had felt pressure from producers and record executives to give its music broader appeal.

Wilson said the group decided this time around to shake those music industry monkeys off their backs.

"There had been decisions from higher-ups in the past to put more of a pop sound to our music," Wilson said. "For this album, we very much wanted to say let's not focus on making better pop songs. Let's focus on what we dig because that pop stuff is going to be there. (Vocalist) John (Popper) writes those kinds of songs."

Wilson believes the band succeeded in that respect. Dressed in more of a rock motif, the new album swings between the psychedelic feel of the opening song, "You Can't Stop Thinking About Me" to the acoustic Motown vibe on the track "She Isn't Mine."

"We said to ourselves, let's not be afraid to bring in a couple of extra instruments or a backup singer," Wilson said. "Let's not be afraid to do an acoustic song. If we are only going to sell a certain number of records and not necessarily get on the radio, let's make something we are proud of and we love rather than something that goes kerplunk and then we move on to the next project. We didn't mean for the album title to work out that way, but in the end it came out, 'Hey, we are a bunch of bastards doing what we want to do.' "

Of course, ¡Bastardos! is not the band's first attempt to change direction, as Wilson can attest.

After original group bassist Bobby Sheehan died of a drug overdose in 1999, guitarist Chan Kinchla told the Boston Herald the band was looking for a new sound. That new sound included bringing in replacement bassist Tad Kinchla - Chan's brother - and adding for the first time a keyboard player, Wilson.

"It was hard for them to fully accept me for the first couple of years," Wilson, 37, said. "On the one hand, they told me, 'Bring everything you got.' On the other, there was a real editing process going on there. They were afraid of what keyboards might bring. They got a little nervous."

Wilson felt similar apprehension from some fans.

"Any time there is a change in membership, you are going to lose some fans and gain some fans," he said. "There are fans who liked the more stripped-down sound of the band before we came along and we lost them. But I bet there were an equal number of fans who came along and liked the sound better.

"There's a trust level that I think you have to build up with both the band and the fans. With the band, I know now they aren't going to freak out and think, 'Oh my God. He is ruining our sound.' Now it's more like I am a part of the sound. They trust what I'm going to do."

Concertgoers shouldn't be disappointed with the direction the band takes its music at next Thursday's concert. Wilson said Traveler plans on covering all its classics, such as "Run-Around" and "Hook" from its multiplatinum hit album, four.

The band also will perform tracks from the new album in what promises to be a very high-energy show. Wilson said the one thing that hasn't changed with the group is its powerful live performances.

"There's not a night that John, Chan and Brendan don't go out there and put it all out on the table," he said. "Their backs could hurt, or their wives could have yelled at them before the show or they are hung over and tired. But they deliver every time."