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Spotlights [Issue # 17 ]
Blues Traveler: The Harmony of Truth

By Dean Truitt

In rock music’s relatively brief history, some of its finest moments have been fraught with great anguish or high drama. Whether it be the marital acrimony that permeates Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or the initially aimless direction that began U2’s reinvention on Achtung Baby, many great artists have turned trying times into triumphant art.

On their eighth studio release, Bastardos!, Blues Traveler found itself in a tense situation. John Popper, the band’s singer and wildly innovative harmonica player, recalls the career uncertainty that plagued the band in the initial process of creating the album. He explains, “We were going to go to Austin just to write for a month. Then we realized, much to our chagrin, that we needed to have the whole album recorded in six weeks or we would miss our deadline. This among other things led to the removal of our management. So, we didn’t even have a manager. The band members had to find the place [studio] and find the producer. Then we all had to find management at some point and finish the record deal. There was this wonderful time in June when we had all of those things done. By accident, we found [producer] Jay Bennett. I think [keyboardist] Ben [Wilson] e-mailed him. Luckily for us, he turned out to be a genius.”

Although the band was extremely pleased with the producer they had chosen, Popper was also undergoing personal chaos. He reflects, “The day before we started writing for this record, I just ended a four-year relationship. Well, I didn’t end it - she ended it. We were six months away from tying the knot. So a lot of the songs in that chunk I didn’t even notice until we were done. I didn’t really feel November; I was numb. And I look back and say, ‘Wow, we wrote some good songs.’ Then, when we got to Austin, there was someone I met on this trip we went on. I met her five weeks before and I wrote five songs about her. I’ve never had anyone have the effect on me. A lot of the songs are about meeting someone and being excited about that. I think it was a smattering. I was thinking about relationships a little more intensely than I had in the past.”

As a result of all the frenetic energy surrounding both his band and personal life, the singer/songwriter managed to delve into his emotional palette and deliver his most profound lyrics to date. While acknowledging the accomplishment, the modest artist admits, “As a songwriter, you’re supposed to be honest and write about what you know and keep the experience that you’re trying to get to and trying to establish something that’s true. Hopefully, that will connect with other people. That’s a wonderful secret about songwriting. If you can write something that’s true and if you can make that connection, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. People can and do assign their own meanings to it. They get an image that reminds them of something and, to them, that’s what the song is about. The secret is that it’s every bit as valid as what I was [originally] thinking. If you write something that’s true, it harmonizes. Truth harmonizes.”

There is definitely a lot of truth throughout the collection. From the opening guitar riff of “You Can’t Stop Thinking About Me,” Blues Traveler sends the listener on a 14-song voyage of shifting atmosphere and theme. The final track, “The Children of the Night,” is a psychedelic groove that grinds with otherworldly power. In the end, Bastardos! is a testament to the belief that the end result makes the struggle worthwhile.


The Harmony of Truth Blues Traveler Bastardos!

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