Song: "Regarding Steven"
Album: Live From The Fall
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As the years pass, one can easily make the argument that along with the music itself, the overall emotion and sincerity behind music has become far more artificial. That is to say, as the years go by, it seems to become more and more difficult to find an artist who brings authentic emotion that clearly sings from the heart. While there are a handful of artists that do this, the overall feeling from modern music is more "plastic" than it has ever been, and it makes those who defy this notion all the more important to the preservation of "real" music. Over the past two decades, as this trend has set itself into place, it is often in bands that can be easily tied to "older" sounds that one finds "real" meaning in music, and this is the reason why Blues Traveler continues to draw in new fans year after year. Boasting one of the most unique musical arrangements in history, one cannot mistake their music for that of any other band, as they blend together blues, folk, and rock in their own distinctive way. Though they are certainly best known for their surprise hit album Four, anyone who listened beyond that record can attest that their best work comes from their live performances, making the bands' 1995 double-disc release, Live From The Fall, quickly rise above their other recordings. It is on this album that one can experience the true essence of the band, and there are few songs in the Blues Traveler catalog as moving and absolutely beautiful as the live 1995 version of their song, "Regarding Steven."
The song itself begins innocently enough, with a slow groove that is instantly set into place by the bass of Bobby Sheehan. It is his performance that largely dictates the mood of the song, as he moves the tempo around in various places, capturing music of the unique sound that is Blues Traveler. Joined quickly by the unmistakable harmonica of John Popper and guitarist Chris Kinchla, few bands can form a single sound as quickly as one experiences on "Regarding Steven." With drummer Brendan Hill making the most of the mellow mood, Blues Traveler quickly pulls the listener into their strangely "safe" sounding song, and yet there is a tension or uneasy sense that is present alongside this feeling. The band spins this slow, tight groove for a bit, and then Popper goes off on one of his finest harmonica solos ever captured, as he conveys the deep emotion of the song in an uncanny fashion, and it is within this performance that the true soul of the band is shown perfectly. Though the mood of the song becomes more intense at this point, the band keeps the timing in check, showing just how much one can develop a single mood without resorting to different time signatures. During the latter half of "Regarding Steven," the interplay between the singing of Popper and the drumming becomes more of a focal point, as the two seem to be performing a strange duet, giving the song a feeling and sound unlike anything else ever recorded.
Along with his instantly recognizable harmonica style, John Popper also possesses one of the more unique voices in music history, and his straightforward vocal approach is one of the keys to the overall mood and experience of "Regarding Steven." Truth be told, few performers have ever given as raw and clearly heartfelt a performance as one finds here, and it is instantly clear that the words which Popper sings ring close and true to his heart. Pushing his voice as far as it can go in every direction, Popper's performance on "Regarding Steven" stands as one of the most mesmerizing in history, and one cannot help but feel the pain he is trying to express. The words, also written by Popper, are simultaneously cryptic and quite clear, making the song open to a number of interpretations. Clearly giving a nod to The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil" with the opening lines of, "...I've guessed your name and I'm sure you know mine...," the song can be seen as a reference to a number of different problems concerning addiction, and this universal application is one of the keys to making the song so powerful. While Popper has stated that it was directed towards a very specific time in his life, the fact of the matter is that "Regarding Steven" can be seen as a letter to any friend struggling with a deep problem, or one can even turn the song on themselves, and see the song as a cry for help or even a look back on a life that one was. Regardless of how one interprets the song, the words carry an amazing weight, and the song remains heartbreakingly potent even after repeated listenings.
The way in which Blues Traveler is able to bring powerful moods to their jam-style, free spirited music is what makes them such a unique and amazing band, and yet it is this aspect that is largely absent from their most commercially successful songs. This is not a bad thing, as it once again proves that in most cases, it takes a slight divergence from their core sound for a truly great band to gain public notoriety. With their 1995 release, Live From The Fall, Blues Traveler instantly proved their case as one of the finest live acts of their day, and the double album provides a fantastic cross-section of the bands' various styles, as well as the overall upbeat mood that runs throughout their music. However, the album also boasts songs like "Regarding Steven," which put on display the superb writing ability of John Popper, as well as showing that honest and introspective lyrics will always easily surpass those not written from the heart. The raw and clearly painful nature of the words Popper sings push "Regarding Steven" into a category all its own, and while it may not display the "normal" mood that Blues Traveler brings to their songs, it shows just how powerful a song can be when performed with true sincerity. The song offers hope in its closing lines, yet the sense of tragedy and pain remains strong throughout, and it is this contrast in moods that helps to make Blues Traveler's 1995 live release of "Regarding Steven" one of the most beautiful and moving songs ever recorded.