Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
It’s been three decades since Blues Traveler’s eponymous 1990 debut was released, introducing us to the harmonica-shredding talents of John Popper. Not only is he the Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen of his instrument, but also their lead singer who writes or co-writes all of their songs. His bandmates are no slouches either, which is why their albums are so enjoyable and not merely showcases for Popper. There are now more than a dozen studio albums in their discography (which I followed until the early 2000’s), yet the debut and its follow-up are the ones I return to most frequently. See below for the assessment I wrote about Blues Traveler in the fifth Great Out Of The Gate post in 2015.
For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.
From GREAT OUT OF THE GATE Part 5:
Blues Traveler released four albums before hitting the big time in 1994 but everything that eventually made them into a multi-platinum band was in place on their self-titled debut. The New Jersey-based group is lumped in with the jam-band scene, yet their songwriting abilities and the game-changing harmonica talents of then-humongous frontman John Popper were the two key reasons they stood out from the pack and made such a strong impression on me. I bought this CD with no expectations or knowledge about the band shortly after it was released, basing my purchase on someone’s recommendation, but it was a road trip with two of my closest friends that summer which helped me to fully appreciate the scope of their talents. Popper is the obvious focal point but guitarist Chan Kinchla, bassist Bobby Sheehan and drummer Brendan Hill are all top-notch players who stamp their personalities all over these songs. They grab your attention right from the start with “But Anyway,” the tight, nuanced playing setting the stage for Popper’s rapid-fire vocal delivery and jaw-dropping harp work. “Mulling It Over,” “Dropping Some NYC” and “Gina” continue that sonic assault, culminating in the mid-album epic, “Crystal Flame,” which has long been my favorite Blues Traveler song. They also display a lightness of touch on the lovely “100 Years” and the slow blues of “Warmer Days” (both featuring a then-unknown Joan Osborne on backing vocals). I hadn’t played this album in several years before giving it a spin last week and I enjoyed it as much as I did back in 1990.
Who else still loves this record 30 years later? If you’ve never heard them or your only exposure came via their multi-platinum 1994 album Four and its radio hits, I urge you to listen to the timeless music here. I hope you like it as much as I do.