With their sixth album, Bridge, out this week, Blues Traveler are back to being the fun-loving group fans knew them to be before a series of setbacks took its toll on the harmonica-driven jam band.
"We're having the most fun I've had in four or five years, because everything's new," drummer Brendan Hill said. "When [new keyboardist] Ben [Wilson] takes a solo, or when Tad [Kinchla] and I are able to do some new part to a song, it's new, it's different. That's what makes music great, when you take it to the next level."
Two years ago in August, the drug-induced death of founding bassist Bob Sheehan (see "Blues Traveler Bassist Died of Drug Overdose") rocked the group. A month prior, then-overweight singer John Popper was hospitalized after complaining of chest pains (see "Blues Traveler's Popper Hospitalized; Band Cancels July 4th Shows").
Tad Kinchla, Chan's brother, was tapped as the new bass player a few months later (see "Blues Traveler Names New Bassist"), and Blues Traveler began working on Bridge soon after his appointment. The studio time proved therapeutic to the group.
"I didn't feel right about things, really," Chan said of the period following Sheehan's death, "until we started getting back to work, until we starting playing together and it felt good. Then [we] could throw [ourselves] into moving forward. Before that, it was ..."
"Theory," a now slimmer Popper continued. "We were speculating that it would be good."
"Once you have something to bring hope to your future," Chan said, "it helps us all move forward."
Bob Sheehan is honored on Bridge with the song "Pretty Angry (For J. Sheehan)," a delicate, piano-based track Popper penned for Johnny Sheehan, the late bassist's brother. And if recording the album was a liberating experience, committing "Pretty Angry" to tape was doubly so.
"When we were recording it, it was so cathartic because we wanted to get it right," Hill said. "I'm really proud of that song. It's got a lot of emotion to it, and we said what we wanted to say. It's hard to play live, we're finding, because it brings out all these emotions."
Blues Traveler are in the middle of a two-month North American tour (see "Blues Traveler Mounting North American Tour") in support of Bridge.