Unlike so many of their jam band peers in the '90s, Blues Traveler
had a genuine Top Ten hit with 1995's "Run-Around" -- and unlike the Spin Doctors
, their only possible rival in the jam band single race, they didn't implode after their success; they kept rolling, staying on the road and churning out record after record until they faded from the charts. The hits stopped coming and the major-label contract ceased, developments that made the group seem like old-fashioned journeymen, a working band delivering on the promise of its name. On record, this meant they ran lean and sometimes experimental, cutting back to basics on The Bridge
and stretching out on Bastardos!
, moves that pleased fans. But a switch apparently flipped within the group, and Blues Traveler
decided they had spent enough time playing for the faithful, so they signed with Verve Forecast -- their largest label since parting from A&M/Interscope at the turn of the millennium -- and turned in North Hollywood Shootout
, which defies all expectations by being Blues Traveler
's first full-fledged AAA pop album, a collection of songs with sanded melodies that have the veneer of adult pop and perhaps would be if they weren't sung by John Popper
, whose harmonica is often buried deep in the mix. North Hollywood Shootout
kicks off with a slowly creeping fog of keyboards, subdued rhythm, and mellow strumming. "Forever Owed" does such a good job of establishing a quiet, serene mood that it comes as no surprise when the drum loops and synthesized squawks surface on the second song, "You, Me and Everything." Still, the bandmembers crank their amps slightly on a couple of occasions, grinding out bluesy three-chord riffs and at one point inviting Bruce Willis
in for a free-form rant called "Free Willis," which isn't nearly as strange as it thinks it is.