Travelers And Thieves

Blues Traveler

A & M Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I remember the day I first discovered Blues Traveler. A & M had sent me the band's latest release at the time, Travelers And Thieves, for review in the college newspaper. I was having a new car radio installed, and used this tape to test it out. And what I heard blast from my speakers threw me for an absolute loop. Was this band using a harmonica as a lead instrument? I was hooked instantly.

It's been seven years since Travelers And Thieves came out, and while there are still some chunky servings on this album that leave you wanting more, there are just as many moments that stretch out far too long.

The sonic cloud starts building with "The Tiding," a ninety-second wave of noise that works its way into a frenzy and collapses just as the next song, "Onslaught," kicks off. John Popper's vocals and harmonica work immediately provide this band with its unique voice - rough but gentle at the same time. Guitarist Chan Kinchla could be one of the most underrated guitarists of this decade, while the rhythm section of bassist Brendan Hill and drummer Bobby Sherman are one of the strongest backbones of trippy-rock this side of the Grateful Dead.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For the better part of Travelers And Thieves, Blues Traveler builds on the solid foundation they laid with their debut album. Cuts like "Ivory Tusk," "I Have My Moments," "Sweet Pain" and "All In The Groove" demonstrate that this band knows not only how to write a good groove but how to deliver it with maximum potency.

And though it has been seven years since I first melted to this tape, Popper's harmonica gymnastics still excite me and wow me. I've heard harmonica work in music for a good portion of my life, and there have even been some examples of one-note-at-a-time playing that have stood out. But Popper takes his harmonicas and puts them through a workout that would make Jane Fonda head for the nearest Baskin-Robbins; some of the things he is able to wrench out of these pieces of metal I would have thought were against the laws of physics.

The difficulty with Travelers And Thieves, however, is in the exact same area where their strength lies. For every strong cut on the album, there is a corresponding weak one. I can't explain why "Onslaught" and "What's For Breakfast" don't tickle my fancy the way that "I Have My Moments" and "Optimistic Thought" do; somehow, the magic just isn't there.

"All In The Groove" is a decent enough track, but as a leadoff single, it just didn't have the punch to propel this band forward. Even today, some of the references (such as being able to "dance like M.C. Hammer") are a bit jaded in trivia.

Often, the strain of the album is evident on the times the band sits back and kicks out the jams. "Mountain Cry" (featuring Gregg Allman) and "Support Your Local Emperor" seem to fall flat from the moment the tracks kick off, and the longer they stretch out, they don't get any better. Too bad. (An exception to the rule is "Sweet Pain," which is magical from the get-go, length be damned.)

Oh, it's not that Travelers And Thieves is a bad album; I still found it entertaining to listen to. But for the latest generation of fans who are looking for another "Run-Around," they're going to be a little discouraged by this one - namely, 'cause it challenges you to think a bit. If only the band had provided that luxury for themselves on a couple of these tracks - a little more brain power in the songwriting phase could have tightened up a couple of the weak cogs in the wheel.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.