Written By: Victor Alfieri
Label: Verve Forecast – Rating:
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Brendan Hill of Blues Traveler, as well as covering their show in Clemson, SC on October 20, 2009. Though this album is over a year old (Released August 26, 2008), CWG felt it was a good idea to close up our “Blues Traveler Section” with this review.
When a band finds extreme commercial success, as Blues Traveler did with their 1994 release Four, the backlash after the success can be vicious and very hard to overcome. That album had a single, “Run Around,” that smashed records for time on the charts. Think of musicians like Hootie and the Blowfish or Alanis Morrisette and their first albums. Just about every track on those two albums was a hit. The chance of any follow up living up to the potential of the first release was nearly impossible.
The casual BT fan and the general media wrote this band off after that album and the tragic passing of original bassist Bobby Sheehan. While the line up of the band and the overall sound has changed, what hasn’t is the ability for this band to create good music.
The addition of a keyboard player (Ben Wilson) and a bassist (Tad Kinchla) with a different style than Sheehan gave the band a new dynamic to play with. It isn’t like they never had a keyboard player on any of their albums. Musicians like Chuck Leavell and Gregg Allman have appeared on earlier albums. Wilson and Kinchla have given John Popper and guitarist freedom to explore musically.
That being said, Blues Traveler does not take too many risks on North Hollywood Shootout. Other than the final track, “Free Willis” with Bruce Willis (yes, THAT Bruce Willis) free form ranting, there are few risks on this album. The harmonica playing is pulled back and subdued throughout, and with the exception of “The Beacons” and to some extent “How You Remember It,” the band really doesn’t let loose. It’s like owning a ’69 GTO and driving the speed limit. Anybody that has seen BT live knows what this band can do. They are built for the live show and have been for 20 years. This distinct attempt at power pop style ballads, while not completely out of character, is a bit surprising.
In terms of song craft, there is a lot of strong work here. “Forever Owed” & “Orange in the Sun” are both very good songs. “What Remains” has the added texture of a horn section, but rather than using the horns to funk it up, the song is a ballad.
This is still a strong album and long time BT fans will enjoy it. Popper, the Kinchla brothers, Ben Wilson & Brendan Hill are a strong and cohesive group that are still very good at what they do.
See Victor’s interview with Brendan Hill.
See Victor’s review of Blues Traveler’s live show in South Carolina.