Blues Traveler was always a blues based jam band at heart, but with an eye on the main chance, and not much has changed on ‘Suzie Cracks the Whip’.
There’s plenty of great playing, and short, sharp instrumental brilliance to match stirring melodies and decent hooks. The main difference is they have spread their song writing responsibilities outside of the band to co-write with Ron Sexsmith, and cover songs such as Chris Barron’s impressive ‘Saving Grace’.
And it all just about works because Popper’s vocal phrasing is never less than excellent. His stellar harp playing lights up the middle of the Aaron Beaver’s ‘You Don’t Have To Love Me’, which is only marginally catchier than the poppy ‘Recognize My Friend’, while Popper also finds room to explode with a blistering solo on ‘Nobody Fall In Love With Me’.
So far so good, but you do wonder where the market is for Blues Traveler and their contemporaries like The Spin Doctors in an age of disposable dance beats. But they can always rely on their scintillating chops, which they subtly showcase on the tightly arranged ‘Devil in the Details’.
There can be very few contemporaries with the same essential bristling creativity after 25 years on the boards, even if it does sometimes lead them into a musical cul-de -sac such as the harp smothered reggae beat of ‘All Things Are Possible’. The title of the song would have suited the album as a whole, as the band stretches its parameters on the funky back beat of ‘Things Are Looking Up’.
Key to it all is Popper’s intuitive and expansive vocal phasing which is as eloquent and essential as his harp playing.
There’s another pitch at the mainstream with the Carrie Rodriguez penned ‘I Don’t Wanna Go’, on which Popper duets impressively with American Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox. But what started off as an album full of refreshing ideas sags a little on the unfocused bluster of ‘Cover Me’, which despite a mesmerizing harp solo never really delivers what it sets out to achieve.
Far better is the sweeping melody of Chris Barron’s ‘Saving Grace’ which is well suited to the band’s melodic bent. It contrasts nicely with Popper’s poetic ‘Cara Let The Moon’ which is a stripped down piano and voice arrangement that would have suited Don Mclean and provides a poignant end-piece to a busy album.
Review by Pete Feenstra
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