Blues Traveler formed in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1987. Known for their blend of genres and exhilarating live performances, they quickly established themselves as one of the leading acts on the 1990’s jam band scene. Their fourth album, the appropriately titled Four, propelled them into the big time. While the commercial fortunes may have waned in the years since, they still remain a hugely popular live draw. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Blues Traveler songs of all time.
10. Carolina Blues
Straight On till Morning, Blues Traveler’s fifth album, was met with a warm reception on its release, with All Music praising its “succinct and eclectic” song list and calling it “the first studio record that captures the essence of the band.” Commercially, it fared reasonably well, hitting number 11 on the Billboard 200. While it didn’t produce any hit singles, there are plenty of nuggets to be found among its sprawling tracklist, including this criminally underrated gem about a relationship gone bad.
9. Brother John
According to Greatoldies.com, Bobby Sheehan and Chan Kinchla wrote this next song for Sheehan’s brother John, who was going through some tough times. Brother John was intended as a ‘wake up’ call, a kind of sonic intervention to rouse him from his stupor and set him back on the right path. Special mention has to go to Popper’s harmonica playing – always delightful, but here, the inspired touch that holds the entire song together.
8. Look Around
Four was the album that propelled Blues Traveler into the mainstream. Released in September 1994, it peaked at number 8 on the Billboard 200 and spawned a series of top 30 hits, including the hugely popular Run-Around and Hook. It’s since certified 6 x platinum in the US after selling over 6 million units. One of its highlights is Look Around, a compellingly intense song that demonstrates the sharp songwriting talents and expert musicianship of the band.
7. The Mountains Win Again
If you want to understand what helped Blues Traveler’s fourth album, Four, sell over 6 million copies, just turn your attention in the direction of insanely hooky The Mountains Win Again. It might not have been as successful as the album’s other singles, Hook and Run-Around, but it still managed to reach a respectable number 14 on the Adult Alternative Airplay chart and number 41 on the Candian charts. Listen out for the Allman Brothers’ Warren Haynes on slide guitar.
6. Conquer Me
Save His Soul, the band’s third studio album, may only have charted at number 72 on the Billboard 200, but it’s packed with treats, with frontman John Popper’s guttural vocals and blasts of piercing harmonica binding the eclectic tracklist together beautifully. Despite its relatively poor performance in the charts, it still managed to go gold – something that Conquer Me, the album’s bluesy, tender-hearted lead single, can claim more than a little credit for.
Blues Traveler’s eponymous debut album gave us a band that could lock and load into an epic jam session just as well as the Grateful Dead, but with arguably more focus and more listenable results. Much of the reason for their success lies with John Popper, a frontman whose presence serves as enough of a focal point to keep the rest of the band in some kind of check. While the album’s lead single But Anyway got most of the attention, it was the deep cuts that kept listeners coming back for a second helping. Considering the strength of hidden gems like Alone, it’s easy to see why.
4. Crystal Flame
Blues Traveler’s eponymous debut album provides a blueprint for the band’s studio releases, boasting unconventional time signatures, guitar fills, and baroque harp flourishes that start as decoration before building into more open-ended jams as the album progress. Crystal Flame, the almost 10-minute long centerpiece to the album, ticks every box, combining laser-sharp songwriting with a loose, improvisational quality that would do the Grateful Dead proud.
3. But Anyway
Blues Traveler’s debut may only have produced one hit single, but considering the strength of that single, it’s hard to grumble. Combining witty lyrics with impeccable performances, But Anyway became the band’s first major hit, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 24 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40.
Run-Around was written by John Popper about Blues Traveler’s original bass player, Felicia, who Popper had an almighty crush on in high school but was too worried to do anything about in case it damaged their friendship. Released as a single from their platinum-selling album Four in February 1995, it became their breakthrough hit, storming to number 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 13 in Canada. At the following year’s Grammys, it picked up the award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
Hook might sound like nothing more than a simple little tune about the mechanics of writing a song, but its sharp commentary about the inanity of most successful pop songs (“It doesn’t matter what I say / So long as I sing with inflection / That makes you feel that I’ll convey / Some inner truth or vast reflection”) took on a new complexity when the song itself reached number 30 in the Billboard Hot 100, effectively becoming one of the only songs in pop history to serve as both a cutting satire on hit songs and a hit song in its own right. Described by AV Club as “a big joke about how listeners will like just about anything laid on top of the chords of the infinitely clichéd Pachelbel canon, even lyrics that openly mock them for liking it,” it remains one of the band’s most enduringly popular songs to this day.