Blues Traveler achieved massive commercial success with 1994's
four, their fourth album, and seemed perched on the precipice of
radio-friendly inanity. A long, grinding live release, last year's
Live From The Fall, stemmed that tide. This year, the band
embraces a comfortable middle ground with Straight On Till
Morning, a studio disc likely to retain pre-Top 40 fans while
pleasing radio stations coast to coast.
Blues Traveler albums are continuations of one another more than separate
musical statements, and the five-album, seven-year journey of John Popper
& Co. shines with enduring melodies and enviable musicianship. True to
form, Straight On Till Morning exudes energy and melodic
diversity, but it does seem a bit formulaic. Still, the formula is an
especially good one. Funky bass, twisting licks from guitarist Chan
Kinchla, crescendos and Popper's almost-superhuman harmonica playing
abound. As such, Straight On Till Morning adds several memorable
tunes to the Blues Traveler canon.
"Carolina Blues," the lead single, opens the album with fuzzy
guitar chords and down-home harmonica appropriate to the title, and seems
a respectable radio offering. A smattering of the rhythm-driven tunes
Blues Traveler excels on appear later - "Business As Usual" and
"Great Big World" are rock-hard rides - but a bevy of ballads
and mid-tempo songs highlight the album. "Felicia,"
"Most Precarious" and the poignantly-romantic "Canadian
Rose" evidence the melodic appeal of Popper's lighter moments,
particularly the latter. "And she called me her ugly American/And I
would call her my Canadian flower/And I don't think that we'll ever
get there again/We had such power," he sings, sentiment conveyed
equally by the lyrics and his sweetly melancholic harmonica.
Blues Traveler's popularity as a live act rivals that of Phish, and the
band has deservedly inherited hordes of Garcia-mourning Deadheads. But
studio recordings succeed on the strength of songwriting, and Blues
Traveler has yet to produce a poor album. Straight On Till
Morning, while failing to break any completely new ground, continues
that tradition, and is an enjoyable listen.