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Blues Traveler
Live from the Fall
by Scott Hersey, Scott B.
New Jersey Online, Brunswick, NJ
Jul 1st, 1995

John Popper is clearly a talented guy. He can sing with soul power. He's the Hendrix of the harmonica, constantly taking his instrument in new directions without ever losing his basic rootsy flavor. And he can write a song: "Run-Around" is one of the great, hummable radio hits of the recent past.

So why does he surround himself with such a ham-fisted backing band? The double-CD Live From the Fall simultaneously shows the best and worst of Popper and Blues Traveler.

First, the best: "Run-Around," coming at the end of a long jam that includes the classic "Low Rider" and an audience singalong on the Gen X anthem "Loser," simply cooks, powered by Popper's amazingly melodic harp. Other highlights: The suprisingly tender "Regarding Steven" and "But Anyway," the band's breakthrough 1990 single.

Now the lowlights: Just about everything else. The major offender here is guitarist Chan Kinchla. He plays one loud semi-psychedelic solo over and over again, hogging the spotlight and ruining more than onesong. But everyone here (including Popper sometimes) plays way too many notes.

There's not much subtlety anywhere on Live From the Fall. When one note would do, the band plays 10. Over and over again. On every song. That's ego talking, not blues. And no matter how good Popper is, it gets in the way. Me, I'm waiting for the solo record.

* * *

"I marvel at the way the band kicks, almost reaching Allman-like grooves at points along the way."
Scott B

When you informed me this album was one of your choices this week, Hersey, I contemplated going to the yellow pages in search of a good curse-provider. I opted instead to simply deface a photo of you and hang it over the office water cooler.

Then I took some deep breaths and started listening to this album -- all 147 minutes of it. A few times. At first, I even got into it. The all-out jams that launch this album on "Love & Greed" and "Mulling It Over" are nice. I marvel at the way the band kicks, almost reaching Allman-like grooves at points along the way.

But 2 1/2 hours is a long time to listen to anybody on a live album. And while Popper is as fabulous a soloist as anyone in music today, the band's songs fail to hold up on the long journey and my tolerance for extended harp solos wanes even sooner.

While I agree with you, Hersey, about the rest of the band's mediocrity, I think they show moments of Dead-like ensemble improvisation that I'd be happy to see them explore even more in the future. Most impressive to me were portions of the "Go-Low-Go-Run" medley where guitar, bass and harmonica parts all swirl in and around one another as the drums build and drop.

But then the soloists veer into coy games where they alternately play melodies from songs like "Dixie," "The Theme From Charlie Brown" and even "Tequila." That's just a ploy to make sure the audience is paying attention. Maybe with a shorter, tighter set, they wouldn't need to rely on such gimmickry.

* * *

Scott Hersey

We're in agreement here. The "Go" medley isn't the only place where a nice jam is ruined by bad soloing. It's all over the album. I wish they understood that old jazz ethic of less being more. But with The Dead and Allmans as their idols, that's probably too much to ask.

* * *

"I wish the band understood that old jazz ethic of less being more."
Scott B

So you're saying The Dead and the Allmans also played too many notes? I don't really understand that criticism. Did John Coltrane play too many notes as well? To me, it sounds like you've been listening to too much Eric Clapton, Hersey. Yes, this live Blues Traveler album gets listless, but it's not because the soloists play too many notes. It's because the tepid soloing can't muster enough steam to compensate for the lackluster songwriting.