December 2001

Blues Traveler - Bridge
A&M CD 06949 0895-2
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]This ain’t no Muddy Waters. And it ain’t no Leadbelly. It ain’t even close to the blues. (In spite of the band's name, they are not even remotely a blues band.) But it is fun. And after 13 years and seven albums, Blues Traveler has honed its music into a style that can appeal to almost any music lover. With Bridge, John Popper and co-horts have almost remade themselves without losing sight of what they were.

It’s been a long four years since Blues Traveler’s last album, Straight On Till Morning, hit the bins and much has changed for the band, both personally and professionally. After making their mark as a jam-based, Grateful Dead-style group and then hitting it big with Four, Blues Traveler has struggled with the challenge of reconciling its desire to be true to its musical roots with its public's desire for hook-laden pop songs. The struggle took its toll: Popper has battled health problems, bassist Bobby Sheehan died at a far too young 31 and the band discovered that fame had its price.

Yet, they have not only survived, but, as Bridge shows, they’ve thrived. Here is a mature, musically fulfilling, song-strong album that should bring a smile to any fan. Using the experiences of the last four years to best advantage, Blues Traveler, and Popper in particular (he wrote all the lyrics and much of the music) crafted an album's worth of songs that combined meaning with humability -- a rare combination. My personal favorite is "Pretty Angry (for J. Sheehan), which says, "And we packed up all your boxes/It’s all been hauled away/I never stare at walls so bare/ 'Cause something always stays/Yeah, something of you stays." The words sting the heart, but the melody soothes long after the song has ended. I’ve seldom heard a better tribute.

"All Hands" sounds like a cross between Procal Harem and Yes. Then there's the wavering line between adulthood and teenage angst in the lines "How hard will it be if she is nice to me?/How bad will it get if I let her get to know me?/Should she see me as a willing dog or should I be a jungle cat?/And most of all, my god, how does she make her eyes do that?" from "Girl Inside My Head."

Despite having been mastered by Ted Jenson, Bridge offers about what you would expect from an album that was recorded at three different studios. Dynamics are compressed (the better to sound good on the boom-boxes so prevalent in today’s households), but the bass is full and deep. Popper’s harmonica wails nicely (unfortunately, it isn’t used enough to satisfy me) and the guitars are easily differentiated. The drums, however, sound processed. All in all, a sonic mixed-bag.

If you’ve been a fan for years, Bridge will rekindle old musical memories, as Blues Traveler melds diverse influences into a sound that’s all their own. And if you’re a newcomer to adult (as opposed to teen oriented pop) music, Bridge will open your eyes to the possibilities of hook-laden music. All the songs have held my attention, ingrating themselves into my soul, remaining with me long after I've stopped listening. While no sonic spectacular, the sound doesn't keep me from enjoying this album over and over. So, grab your bags and join Blues Traveler on what appears to be just the beginning of a fabulous journey.