The Music Box's #7 album for 2001
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2001, Volume 8, #6
Written by John Metzger
With the release of Bridge, Blues Traveler is officially back, and it just may be better than ever. The new album marks the bandís first studio release since 1997ís Straight on Till Morning ó a disc that, while solidly executed, failed to recapture the magic of Four. At the time, Blues Traveler was definitely going through some growing pains, and as a result the disc sounded formulaic and a bit forced. As if that wasnít enough, the bandís lead singer and chief lyricist John Popper subsequently suffered a series of serious health issues, and bass player Bobby Sheehan died of a drug overdose. So if Bridge is a tad reflective and personal, one can certainly understand why that might be. But itís also for this very reason that the album holds together so well.
Bridge rides an emotional roller coaster that climbs to the highest of heights on the opening Back in the Day, which celebrates the sheer joy of performing together again. And on the albumís best track Pretty Angry, it sinks to the lowest of lows, wallowing somewhere between anger at and sorrow about the death of Sheehan. Popper has always shared glimpses of his life through his lyrics, but itís here that he has truly outdone himself. This seven-minute opus is nothing short of a masterpiece as the singer bares his soul while passionately expressing his conflicted feelings over the loss of his friend. A touchingly beautiful piano accompaniment gives way to the band, building the tension in the song as Popper delivers his haunted lyrics. Before it can conclude, its gaping wound is rubbed raw and the nerve endings are left exposed. Itís only in sheer emotional exhaustion that the melody collapses, with Popper adding in a near whisper: "I guess Iím still pretty angry and I donít wanna be. I donít know which was the bigger waste of time ó missing you...."
Fueling the re-emergence of Blues Traveler are the additions of bass player Tad Kinchla and keyboardist Ben Wilson. Kinchla joined the group shortly after Sheehanís death and is the younger brother of guitarist Chan, and Wilson was added to the line-up in February 2000. Both musicians make their recording debut with the band on Bridge and have contributed tremendously to the groupís sound. Tad Kinchla does more than simply fill Sheehanís shoes ó which were rather large ones at that ó adding a funkier, jazzier undercurrent to many of the tracks, and taking Blues Travelerís songs into some new and exciting directions. And Wilsonís keyboard textures help the band to create a more richly defined and expansive sound, while allowing harp-wizard Popper to lay low once in awhile to focus instead on his opalescent vocals.
In addition, Bridge successfully captures the dynamic range of a Blues Traveler concert ó better than any of the groupís previous studio efforts have done. Yet it also accomplishes this within the confines of a commercially acceptable recording. Although Bridge wonít be quite the juggernaut that Four was, it is actually a better album. It showcases the bandís multi-faceted approach to its music, and it does so in an extraordinarily compelling fashion ó leaving all of the old doors ajar, while opening some new ones too. Quite frankly, Bridge is not only Blues Travelerís best album to date, but it is also a welcome return for a group of musicians whose very lives depended upon it.
Of Further Interest...
Bridge is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box