Former Wilco wiz Jay Bennett helms latest from H.O.R.D.E. fest pioneers
Out of the gates, Blues Traveler rocks more than it grüves on ¡Bastardos!,
anchored by guitarist Chan Kinchla’s riffing and frontman John Popper’s fantastical melodies. The album displays far more ambition than typical jamband studio efforts (which are usually failed attempts at bottling a group’s live magic). Producer Bennett sweetens the mix with a Summerteeth
-like cornucopia of tape loops, sampled strings and dreamy Mellotron, though the songs don’t always jibe well with the treatment. The first couple tracks might con listeners into thinking Popper has become more tasteful—reigning in his harmonica blitzkrieg to where he’s not constantly climaxing. But this notion is soon shattered. Like Robert Randolph, Popper is technically amazing, but lacks restraint. Too often—rather than serving the music—he indulges the overwhelming desire to get his rocks off. But he’s still a soulful vocalist (even if he occasionally meanders into territory his pipes can’t handle), and the band can still write a catchy chorus. In this regard, “Amber Awaits” stands out as ¡Bastardos!
’s best track, but there’s nothing here as memorable as earlier chestnuts like “But Anyway,” “Sweet Pain” and “Hook.”