“Suzie Cracks the Whip,” Blues Traveler (429)
Blues Traveler takes a straightforward road to commemorate its 25th anniversary.
The New York City blues-rock band takes no unexpected detours with its new “Suzie Cracks the Whip” as it delivers its characteristic sound. However, the group did break from convention and take along more passengers than usual — outside songwriters who helped bolster the internal work. Canadian Ron Sexsmith was the most prolific recruit; he worked with various band members on four tracks, including the melodic charmer “Love Is Everything (That I Describe)” and the smoldering mid-tempo “Things Are Looking Up,” where frontman John Popper sings, “Dreams in the gutter, spirits on the floor/Hope’s in the dumpster, but there’s always room for more.”
Just as there are no twists and turns on “Suzie Cracks the Whip,” there are also no ups and downs. Blue Traveler proves consistently serviceable, though a bit too manufactured-sounding at times, as on a “Cover Me” that sounds like a classic-rock B-side, the nondescript “Recognize My Friend” (also co-written by Sexsmith), and the murky “Saving Grace” (written by Spin Doctors frontman/longtime Popper pal Chris Barron).
Some good-not-great touches include the soulful harmonies offered by “American Idol” runner-up Crystal Bowersox on “I Don’t Wanna Go” and a pale Santana spin on “Devil in the Details.”
Nevertheless, the group also seems confident and at ease, creating at least a low-grade infection whether playing with a reggae lilt in the cadence of “All Things Are Possible” or making room for Popper’s heartfelt piano-ballad closer, “Cora Let the Moon.”
It’s a triumph that any band can hold it together for a quarter of a century, and for Blues Traveler to still sound as good as the casual-feeling “Suzie Cracks the Whip” is a minor miracle.
Rating (five possible): 3