Live From The Fall

Blues Traveler

A &M Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The live album is one of the hardest pieces of material any musical artist has to create. How does one turn a stage into a replica of what they were able to do in a recording studio? How does one re-capture the magic in a live performance? More often than not, the efforts, while admirable, are seriously flawed.

Exhibit "A": Blues Traveler, and their first venture into live territory (not including a limited-edition CD released with some copies of their second album), Live From The Fall.

Make no mistake, John Popper and crew prove that they are extremely talented musicians, and Popper still blows me away with his harmonica work. (The first time I ever heard him play, I couldn't believe anyone could have squeezed such music out of a harmonica... nice to see someone has the courage to massacre the instrument and create such a beautiful noise.) But the energy they may have been able to show on tour is not captured well with an audio-only attack - and this makes all the difference between a typical live album and an extraordinary one.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Part of the problem is in the mix. Whoever is responsible for burying Chan Kinchla's guitar work throughout most of the album should be shot; Kinchla's guitar work is an integral part of the Blues Traveler sound, and should be up front, where it belongs. For that matter, the overall sound is muddier than the grounds of Saugerties during Woodstock '94 - yecch.

Part of the problem is that Blues Traveler is really a one-vocalist band, with no backup vocals. Because of this, we lose the harmony vocals on "Runaround" and "But Anyway," which had been layered in the studio by Popper. I don't know if I can fault anyone in this case, though the harmonies are sorely missed.

Maybe even part of the problem is the fact that Blues Traveler is still very much a cult band, with only two or three songs well known among those who know the band only from radio airplay. "But Anyway" and "Runaround" are here, though their studio versions blow these renditions away easily.

Surprisingly, Blues Traveler is able to breathe some life into the material culled from their third (and weakest) release, Save His Soul. The extended jam on "Go Outside And Drive" is incredible, though the cover of "Low Rider" in the middle leaves much to be desired. (By the way, who is responsible for shortening the names of many of the songs on the jacket and the tapes? I own everything by the band, and even I don't know the full names of almost half the songs! Nice way to alienate the new fans, gang!)

One high note comes during the encore, where Popper sings a touching rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" - one of the best cover versions of the song I've ever heard.

Live From The Fall does include some new material, but the sad fact is these are all throwaways, and tend to distract from the power of the established material. Unfortunately, this isn't what a live album should do - it should enhance the originals with its own unique flavor - not stench.

So, cheer up, boys! Not everyone makes a great live album on their first try - or their second, or third even. With Live From The Fall, you're in good company. You tried hard, but the sad fact is this album is for the die-hard fans only, and even they may be discouraged by it. See you in the studios - where, by the way, the band presently is, working on a release slated for this summer.

Rating: D

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A &M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.