For Throwback Thursday, this week, PPcorn is taking a look at one of the classic blues rock albums of the 90’s: classic jam band Blues Traveler’s 1994 album Four. The album is appropriately titled, as it was their fourth, and released in a year ending in four. In its day, Four reached number eight on the Billboard charts, and reached Platinum six times (selling six million copies) and hit single “Run Around” one a Grammy for Best Rock Performance. Below is PPcorn album review of Four by Blues Traveler.
“Run Around”, the hit single that won itself a Grammy, opens the album beautifully, with Popper on harmonica and vocals, ushering the listener into the first catchy jam sesh. “Stand” hits you with funky wah guitar and syncopated rhythms while the vocals swoosh “The answers are getting harder.” Any more organ on this and it would be straight up Motown. The jam’s second section is a droney psychedelic sound with lyrics warning, “It’s long way to fall.” “Look Around” has a lovely piano intro leading into a steady high-hat and snare click courtesy of Hill, alongside organ, laying the backing sounds for a soft rock ballad. Popper keeps his vocals smooth, only growly at peak emotional points in the verse.
“Fallible” features some killer harmonica leading into an easy-going funky guitar riff. The jam suddenly speeds up and then goes full out with a harmonica solo. Popper’s growling purr showcases his vocal and lyrical capabilities in quite a sultry way, “God I wanna touch you / in the place you wanna hide / dare you to come after me / commit my ‘narcisside’.” “The Mountains Win Again” is an easy going tune that creates a break in the upbeat stream of songs on the album, similar to how a band would give themselves a breather in a live performance. Clever arranging, since Blues Traveler is known for their live shows. “Freedom” is one of the more technically difficult songs on Four and has a harder rock sound. Popper’s grunting vocals stretch and shake while the harmonica and guitar pass the buck back and forth with effortless intensity. Definitely a break from the normal, this one.
“Crash Burn” searing hot harmonica opens this chugging track. The bass line running out of control, Popper’s vocals effortlessly keeping pace. The solo passes from harmonica to guitar to bass to drums with missing a beat, around and around. Bluesy harmonica gets “Price to Pay” going, while the guitar stays subtle in the background with light piano, until it segues back and forth in classic Blues Traveler style from blues rock to more psychedelic rock, ending with a harmonica fade-out. “Hook” takes more of a pop approach, but still maintains Blues Traveler’s signature strong bass sound. Popper’s ability to enunciate at great speeds amazes as he unleashes burn after burn against MTV and it’s “hip three minute diddies,” arguing that “The Hook brings you back / I ain’t tellin you no lie / The Hook brings you back / On that you can rely.” An ode to jams.
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” opens with distorted guitar and harmonica jamming a riff together, just passing the solo back and forth like it ain’t nothing but a thing. Incredible heights are reached on the harmonica during this instrumental jam. “Just Wait” brings it back down again with acoustic guitar and bare-bones bass supporting Popper’s soft vocals. Later organ arrives quietly in the background, providing a taste of gospel before Hill’s drums lay down a steady R&B beat, accentuated by piano, building up into a much bigger track than first expected, complete with epic guitar solo. The token running bass line of “Brother John” is absurdly fast. The Southern harmonica lays out a laid back groove, segued into Kinchla’s psychedelic-tinged guitar solo before Popper spits lyrics fast enough to rival Sheehan’s bass. Legend has it this song refers to Sheehan’s brother who was struggling with drug addiction.