When you are presented an album title like Suzie Cracks the Whip, you might expect something on the record that snaps, pops, or is otherwise attention-commanding. Alas, while this latest release from Blues Traveler is definitely a step up from their previous recent work, no such whip-cracking actually exists.
To be fair to this veteran band, Blues Traveler absolutely deserves their loyal following, and this record doesn’t deter from that fact. Some bands produce outstanding records naturally, and gear their live performances around selling those records; other bands are simply great “live bands”, and their records serve more as souvenirs of the live experience. Blues Traveler falls squarely into the latter category, and given the fact that they actually encourage bootleg recordings of their shows, it appears that they are at least somewhat self-aware of that fact.
Having said that, while Suzie Cracks the Whip doesn’t break any new ground, at the very least it signifies a return to the elements that have won the band its fan base. After an ill-fated venture toward the pop market with 2008’s North Hollywood Shootout, Blues Traveler has returned to a more authentic sound, complete with the extended guitar riffs and signature harmonica solos we’ve come to expect from a great bluesy jam-band. Stand-out tracks on the record—and “stand-out” might be too strong of a hyphenated word—include the southern-fried “Things Are Looking Up,” the big-sounding “Cover Me,” and a rockin’ duet with American Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox, “I Don’t Wanna Go.”
Ironically, this “return” or “re-discovery” of the Blues Traveler sound has come out of an attempt to diversify. Frontman John Popper tapped a number of other songwriters to collaborate on this track list, and the surprising result is something that sounds more “Blues Traveler”-y than anything original they’ve produced in the last several years. (Guess these co-songwriters like the band’s old-school groove the best.)
All told, Suzie Cracks the Whip doesn’t have anything to match old hits like “Run-Around” or “Carolina Blues,” but it certainly has enough material to keep fans happy and keep the band blues-travelin’ through another season. If nothing else, it will make a great souvenir for this summer’s “Last Summer on Earth” tour.
In case you hadn’t gotten the hint—go see Blues Traveler live. Their shows easily beat any record they’ve ever put out.
ALBUM RATING: 3 Stars (out of five)