Blues Traveler


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Bastardos! Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

They might not have had hits like they did at the height of their popularity in the mid-'90s, when "Run Around" became a Top Ten single, but Blues Traveler did very well in the new millennium, crafting records that are in many ways stronger than the albums they made when they were just building their audience in the early '90s. Both 2001's Bridge and 2003's Truth Be Told were surprisingly tight, relatively lean records from the jam band, but 2005's Bastardos! -- their eighth studio album -- still comes as a bit of a surprise, since it captures the band at its most musically adventurous. From the second that "You Can't Stop Thinking About Me" kicks off the album in a rush of swirling guitars and neo-psychedelic melodies, it's clear that Blues Traveler have recorded an album that is richer as a sonic experience than any of their previous albums. Part of this may be due to their enlistment of former Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett as their producer. Bennett gives the band appealingly dense, busy mixes; even in the simplest mixes, there's always something going on, and far from being distracting, it enhances the group's music, since there's something new to discover on repeated listens. This shift in attitude on production would be enough to make Bastardos! a unique album in Blues Traveler's discography, but what makes it one of their best is how the band stretches from psychedelia to soulful pop and back toward their signature blues-rock, writing sturdy songs all the while. It's strong on a song-by-song basis, particularly since each track is sonically distinct, but all the moods complement each other, resulting in an album that might not be the most representative Blues Traveler album (although it isn't all that far removed from their trademark sound, either), but is certainly the richest, most diverse album they've ever done, and quite arguably their best.

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