If a person living in today”‘s American society were to travel 14 years into the past, the experience would be best comparable to an astronaut voyaging to a far-off alien planet.
There was a Clinton in the White House, the country’s economy was coming out of a recession rather than entering into one, and the only war in Iraq to date was the short-lived Gulf War a few years prior.
Social differences aside, the pop music nexus of nearly a decade and a half ago possessed a far different sound than today”‘s electronic- driven beats.
The college rock scene was gaining popularity on mainstream radio, and the jam band renaissance, beginning in the early 90″‘s, was gaining overwhelming momentum.
In particular, there was one band in 1994, equally encapsulated by both these genres, that was able to find immense success in the summer of that year.
That was the year psychedelic-blues-rock band Blues Traveler released their fourth album, the aptly titled smash hit “four,” propelling the band from modest popularity to household name.
Due primarily to the CD”‘s two catchy singles “Run-Around” and “Hook,” Blues Traveler rocketed up the charts, eventually breaking the record for most weeks on the Billboard Top 100 and securing the group a Grammy in 1995 with “Run-Around” voted as best song of the year. The band”‘s music began to appear throughout the pop-culture megasphere of the mid-90″‘s, with Blues Traveler songs being featured in a wide array of movies, TV shows and national commercials.
Yet nothing lasts forever.
In the years following the prolific success of “four”, the road on which Blues Traveler journeyed took the band to certain places that can only be assumed they wished never to see.
The group faced massive personal hardships relating to lead singer John Popper”‘s issues with weight and gastric bypass surgery in 1998, followed by the death of bassist Bobby Sheehan due to a heroin overdose the ensuing year.
While still able to retain some of their popularity, no Blues Traveler album has been able to reach the level of critical or commercial acclaim that had been once found with “four”.
In 2002, due to the band mates”‘ debilitating personal problem and falling album sales, Blues Traveler was released by their label, music-industry mega-giant A&M Records.
Times were not looking good for the band, who only a few years prior had one of the hottest sounds in America.
As I said before, though, nothing stays the same forever.
Now, in 2008, with a slimmed down Popper still on vocals, a new record deal with rising production company Verve Forecast Records and Tad Kinchla, brother of the band”‘s guitarist Chan Kinchla, on bass, Blues Traveler is back with a new CD that has a sound strong enough to return the group to the height of their prosperity once achieved 14 years ago.
The recently released “North Hollywood Shootout” is a combination of all the things that once made Blues Traveler famous.
On tracks such as the smooth, soulful love tune “What Remains”, and the sweet, albeit somewhat generic sounding ballad “Borrowed Time,” the group exemplifies their adherence to their pop base. While numbers like the psychedelically-influenced “Love Does” and the eclectically blues-driven ditty “Free Willis” remind the listener that the band has not lost their desire to combine and experiment with a plethora of different musical styles.
The astounding vocals and harmonica playing of Popper is “North Hollywood”‘s” glistening centerpiece; it is the sound that has, and always will, set Blues Traveler apart from other groups arising from the same musical era.
Not since The J. Geils Band”‘s 1976 live album “Blow Your Face Out” has a musician been able to master the often-under-appreciated mouth harp the way Popper does on “North Hollywood.”
While on a nationwide tour this past summer, the band began to slip select songs off of “North Hollywood” into their normal repetoire of hits, all of which being met with resounding praise and applause.
With the country in the shape that it is currently in, “North Hollywood Shootout” provides a wonderful reminder of the beauty of how life once was 14 years ago.