Blues Traveler – ¡Bastardos! (2005)
purchase this album
A funny thing happened to Blues Traveler on their way to obscurity: As John Popper slimmed down, the band’s songs did too, until both were left with something like their essential parts. I hesitate to use the words “essential” and “Blues Traveler” in combination, but you know what I mean — and besides, “Let Her & Let Go,” from their last album, Truth Be Told, is the best song I’ve ever heard from the band. It’s a little strange, if you ask me; I mean, nobody’s buying their records anymore save the diehard fans, so you’d think they’d drift further into Jam Land, not away from it.
¡Bastardos! was produced by Jay Bennett, the erstwhile Wilconian, but still sounds pretty much like a Blues Traveler record (although I must admit that this is the first I’ve listened to all the way through since 1993’s Save His Soul). John Popper is, as ever, an acquired taste, and one which I think I can safely say will never be acquired by me. His reedy vocals and overstuffed, melismatic harmonica solos didn’t do anything for me when “Runaround” was on the radio all the fucking time and they don’t today — the difference now is that, since I don’t have to hear them everywhere I go, they’re easier to tolerate.
“Amber Awaits” (download) is the single that won’t go anywhere, and accurately reflects the spirit of the album as a whole — while making ¡Bastardos! Popper broke an engagement, fell in love, and, in his own words, “did a lot of carousing,” so this set is heavy on songs about girls. There’s something a little troubling about a guy Popper’s age devoting an album to a case of cat scratch fever, but it’s got its moments. My favorite: “That Which Doesn’t Kill You” (download).