We're not gonna lie: 'Truth be Told' shines

There are live bands that couldn't make a decent studio album if they tried, and then there are studio bands that couldn't pull off a live show if they lip-synced their way through it. Blues Traveler doesn't fall into either one of those categories.

Formed in Princeton, NJ in 1983 by high school chums, Blues Traveler is no stranger to the concert circuit. In fact, they are one of the founders of the H.O.R.D.E. Tour. Luckily for those not fortunate enough to seem them live, the band has found a way to capture their enthusiastic live performances on their seventh studio album, "Truth Be Told."

When was the last time you heard a Blues Traveler song on the radio? A while ago, right? Even if you have heard one recently, it was probably "Run-around," the song that broke them in to the mainstream. This, admittedly, is understandable. "Run-around" is a good song, and went as far to break the Billboard record for being the longest charting single to date, but it is only the tip of the iceberg of a good repertoire of music.

Blues Traveler gave us one of the secrets to their success on the album "Four," on which John Popper, the lead singer and harmonica virtuoso, belted "the hook brings you back/I ain't tellin' you no lie." Sing-a-long hooks are an integral part of "Truth Be Told," but what sets them apart from other pop songs (flashback to "that thong/thong thong/thong thong") is that these hooks come with bait -- that is, they actually have substance to them. Songs like "Partner In Crime," with the repeated line "is it the dead man walking/Who feels the most alive," and "Thinnest of Air" with "Yes/I'm unprepared/And in the face of it all/I guess I get just the littlest bit scared," have a deeper meaning than a fascination with underwear. They're hooks you wouldn't mind having stuck in your head all day.

Even if the hook doesn't make the song, Popper's voice will. Remember, it's not what you say, it's how you say it. Popper is just the man to have if you're trying to win over an audience using this tactic. He has a crisp, clear, flexible voice that can easily travel a couple octaves up and down a musical scale. But what makes his vocal acrobatics most interesting is just how closely they parallel the sound of his harmonica. They blend extremely well, and sometimes it's hard to tell when one stops and the other begins.

On the other hand, Blues Traveler does not have to rely heavily upon the appeal of Popper's voice, because they do actually have something to say. The lyrics found on "Truth Be Told" sound oddly like a self-help guide. It is evident that the members of Blues Traveler find many aspects of life quite irritating and, sometimes, downright absurd.Instead of being angry and producing an angst-driven album, however, these boys have decided to let it go and look on the bright side.

In "My Blessed Pain," Popper analyzes the differences between the needs of a man and a woman, differences that are apparently causing Popper some difficulties. He sings about walking past a girl attempting to commit suicide: "She heard my tale and climbed off the rail and/Then she tried to push me in." Ironically, it is not a woe-is-me song. It's summed up with the revelation: "How you feel me and grow me/And no one has known me to complain/For you are my blessed pain."

The band further washes their hands of that which they cannot change in "Let Her and Let Go," which is opened with these lines: "In all that I do and in all that I say/I used to have a dream that love didn't have to be this way." Despite the realization that love doesn't follow the storyline of a fairy tale, Popper and Tad Kinchla, who co-wrote the song, come to the conclusion that it is still the best route to take.

The one song on the album that doesn't follow the laidback pattern set by the others is "This Ache." It is a dark and frantic song about an unwelcome yearning for someone else. Popper definitely hasn't found a way to let this go: "I turn to go but quite instead/It sinks its fangs into my head/And gnaws upon me like a greedy bone/The fragrant scent of parts unknown." Even though it sticks out like a zit on otherwise unblemished skin, it doesn't detract from the overall experience of the album.

Blues Traveler is fast disappearing from the pop scene; the omnipotent Rolling Stone didn't even mention "Truth Be Told" in their review section. It would be easy to forget about them all together, except for one nagging fact: they put out consistently good music. "Truth Be Told" is right up there with their earlier work, if it doesn't surpass it. I ain't tellin' you no lie.

4 Stars

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