Songs that last tell stories. Real magic happens when a cranked guitar chord, wailing harmonica, saucy beat, and soulful vocal conjure up a psychedelic scene, a warm family memory, or a romance-gone-wrong (or -right, for that matter)…
Since 1987, GRAMMY® Award-winning multiplatinum rock mavericks Blues Traveler—John Popper [vocals, harmonica], Chan Kinchla [guitar], Tad Kinchla [bass], Ben Wilson [keyboards], and Brendan Hill [drums]—have spun such tales. Moreover, they proudly continue this tradition on their 13th full-length album, Hurry Up & Hang Around.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a hell of a story behind Hurry Up & Hang Around. As it goes, 2017 rolled around and marked the boys’ 30th anniversary. What better way to celebrate than to return with an all new body of work?
So, for the first time, the musicians decided to rent a house in Nashville and write and record in “Music City.” By the time they settled in during the spring, that undertaking was far easier said than done…
“We were going through some changes as far as our infrastructure goes,” admits Popper. “We parted ways with two different managers. No preparations had really been made, and it seemed like it might be too late to make new music. Between taking meetings, we were by ourselves writing in the garage every day of this Nashville house. That was pretty cool, because we felt like a garage band again. There was a spirit of survival. We had something to celebrate, so we really came together as a band.”
Re-energized and focused, they hit the road for a month, joined forces with Cast Management, and returned to Nashville in order to work with GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Matt Rollings [Willie Nelson]. Rollings’ intense attention to detail unlocked a rich sonic spectrum as he challenged and pushed each member to excel without compromising or taking “no” for an answer.
After five weeks, they came home with the 12 tracks comprising Hurry Up & Wait Around.
“Matt put it all on turbo boost, because he’s one of the finest producers we’ve ever worked with, period,” adds Popper. “He can bring out any sound he wants. He got takes out of me that I couldn’t ever get out of myself, and I’ve tried. However, he also let me be me. It’s one of the best production experiences we’ve ever had. It was an unexpected musical education.”
Punctuated by the cry of a wah-wah solo, the album opening Led Zeppelin-esque blues rock stomp of “Accelerated Nation” exposes how, “we’re all trapped and liberated at the same time by our automobiles.”
Blues Traveler fittingly introduced the record to audiences with the simmering groove of the first single “When You Fall Down.” Hinging on boisterous guitars and an Animal House-worthy hook (“The party starts when you fall down”), it captures the fire at the album’s heart.
“There’s a carefree innocence to ‘When You Fall Down’,” the frontman elaborates. “You’re throwing off your cares in a party scenario. Of course, it alludes to people being so wasted they fall down, but that’s always fun,” he laughs.
Elsewhere, “She Becomes My Way” tempers cinematic piano chords with stirring Motown-style delivery, culminating on a hypnotic and heartfelt refrain.
“My wife had been dying for me to write a song about her,” he says. “When she finally left me alone long enough, I was able to. I tried to focus on the sensory feeling she gives me. That’s what it’s about.”
The guys add a twist of Blues Traveler gusto and wild harmonica to “Phone Call From Leavenworth”—originally written by an old friend, the late and great Chris Whitley.
Hurry Up & Hang Around climaxes on the emotionally charged and stark piano-driven ballad “Ode From The Aspect.” Written after imbibing a “magic” plant on Jam Cruise, it pays homage to the group’s faithful fan base.
“I went back to my room and wrote a song about the feeling the audience bestows on me and the love they give me,” he goes on. “It’s overwhelming. I feel like I expressed some stuff I hadn’t been able to express for years and may have not really said because of being coy or shy. It gets to the heart of what the fans mean to me.”
That fan base has only continued to grow since Blues Traveler first congregated in a Princeton, NJ garage. Along the way, they threw out the rule book and stirred up rowdy rock, smoky psychedelica, southern folk, staggering soul, and brash blues into an intoxicating brew that only gets better with age. The quintet kicked off their career with a trifecta of gold-certified albums, including Blues Traveler , Travelers and Thieves , and Save His Soul . 1994’s Four represented a major breakthrough, earning a six-times platinum certification and yielding classics such as “Hook,” “The Mountain Wins Again,” and the ubiquitous “Run-Around”—which earned a GRAMMY ® for “Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group.” Continuing that hot streak, 1998’s Straight On Till Morning also went platinum. Throughout the 2000’s, they prolifically unleashed albums and toured relentlessly, selling out venues worldwide and building something of a legend. However, their next chapter is shaping up to be their brightest and boldest yet.
Given their penchant for storytelling, it’s no surprise that “Run-Around” famously kicked off with the line, “Once upon a midnight eerie…”
This story is really getting good now on Hurry Up & Hang Around.
“It’s our truth,” Popper leaves off. “When you hear this, I hope the songs matter to you. I want to get into your heart. If you enjoy what we’re doing in any way, our mission is accomplished. We’re a family. You’re a part of that.” – Rick Florino
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