Home Read Albums Of The Week: Blues Traveler | Traveler’s Soul

Albums Of The Week: Blues Traveler | Traveler’s Soul

After snagging a Grammy nod for their 2021 LP of blues covers, John Popper & co. let it ride by tackling soul-adjacent tracks by everyone from Dr. John to Deee-Lite.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “No matter how much the world around us may change, music persists as the last original magic. It appears seemingly out of nowhere, affecting and altering emotions, feelings, and moods before melting back into the ether. Blues Traveler channel that magic with their 15th full-length album Traveler’s Soul — a set of R&B and soul staples and hits.

“The first thing to consider about the majority of tunes we chose to cut for Traveler’s Soul is that they were originally produced as pop singles,” says keyboardist Ben Wilson. “They cut the fat! Blues Traveler is not a low-fat band, so at times it was difficult to lay into these tunes and let them be. But that was the challenge for us — how to cover these classic hit songs and make them feel like our own.”

Inded, these anthems also fit like a glove for Blues Traveler. And not for the first time. In 2021, they tackled blues covers with Traveler’s Blues and wound up with a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album. Maintaining this momentum, the musicians made the decision to dive headfirst into another lane altogether. “We had so much fun with Traveler’s Blues that we were like, ‘We should try this again with a different style’,” recalls guitarist Chan Kinchla. “We have so many influences, going from hip-hop and blues to pop, rock, and R&B. We wanted to honour soul and R&B and challenge ourselves by trying our own take on some of our favorites from those genres.”

Recording with Grammy-winning producer and Traveler’s Blues cohort Matt Rollings, the boys cut 12 tunes in Nashville, spanning ’50s and ’60s standards, New Orleans nuggets, and ’90s bangers. They introduce this new chapter with Fool For You, written by Curtis Mayfeild and popularized by The Impressions (of which he was a member) back in 1968. A wailing harmonica gives way to an understated guitar riff and a heavenly piano melody. This ebb-and-flow underlines a smoldering vocal performance from John Popper, backed by a rapturous choir. “It’s actually got a unique time signature,” Chan says. “The instrumentation we use is different from what’s on the original recording, but it has a modern vibe. It was strangely tricky and definitely a great challenge. We just love the way it turned out.”

Elsewhere on the album, horns swoon across a funky guitar strut on their reimagining of King Floyd’s 1970 hit Groove Me. An urgent and undeniable performance thrives on the signature chemistry and unspoken sonic shorthand between the bandmates. The band stroll through The Big Easy with a rollicking rendition of Dr. John’s Qualified, punctuated by ragtime piano, upbeat horns, and slick fretwork. Chan adds, “We knew we needed to do a Dr. John song, because our keyboardist Ben is such a huge fan. We wanted to pick a deeper cut, and Qualified fit the bill perfectly.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, they ride a wave of inspiration on TLC’s Waterfalls, which unites Blues Traveler with Pat Monahan of Train and up-and-coming hip-hop artist Daisha McBride. Beyond the vocal fireworks and intimate acoustic guitar, Daisha lights up the track with an homage to Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez’s iconic rap. “She crushed it,” Chan grins. “It was so fun to hear a real rapper on a Blues Traveler song. We brought in the acoustic as opposed to all of the layered production in the original. We opened the door for the Blues Traveler sound. We had just toured with Train, so it was cool to have Pat on there. It brings things full circle.

“When Run Around was big, Waterfalls was on MTV back-to-back. The ’90s were so weird and great, because you could have TLC followed by Blues Traveler. We’d do radio shows, and our trailer would be next to theirs. When you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you’re actually around for some of the classics!”

Inspired and invigorated by this season, Blues Traveler will continue cooking up their own classics as well. “All of these songs have a life of their own,” Chan leaves off. “It’s magical to see what music can turn into if you’re open and creative. We learned so much by taking these songs apart and seeing how these great musicians write. It was a masterclass in songwriting, and it will definitely influence where we go next. We’ve grown, and 36 years on, that’s a great thing.”


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