AS DEBUT albums go, the new self-titled release by Blues Traveler goes further than most. To call this young New York-based quartet a blues band, though, would be misleading. Singer and songwriter John Popper may be a harmonica wizard -- he plays cross-harp solos with the fluency of a jazz keyboardist -- but the group's interests extend to funk, rock, metal and psychedelia as well.
The latter two influences are mostly conjured by guitarist Chan Kinchla, a Hendrix-Led Zep devotee with the chops to match, and by such Popper tunes as "Dropping Some NYC." Still, it's primarily the combination of Popper's soaring harp and British drummer Brendan Hill's emphatically off-kilter rhythms that sets "But Anyway" and other quirky tunes into motion, sometimes infectiously so.
Too bad that not all the songs are as clever as that one or "100 Years," because half way through the record, the band seems at a loss for ideas and begins to repeat itself or mimic its models. Half an album this good, though, is better than none: It suggests there may be something more than hype supporting the band's hot concert reputation.
BLUES TRAVELER -- "Blues Traveler" (A&M). Appearing Sunday at the Bayou.