Sound: For a lot of Top 40 radio listeners out there, Blind Melon will probably be that band with a video featuring a girl in a bee suit. It's hard to argue that the bee video, otherwise known as No Rain, gave the band it's lasting place in music history, but those of us who delved deeper found a much more adventurous, creative band lurking underneath. While it seemed that the band was done for good when vocalist Shannon Hoon passed away in 1995 of a cocaine overdose, the remaining members have decided to carry on under the Blind Melon name and it's not quite as blasphemous as it appears. Replacing Hoon on the new album For My Friends is Travis Warren, who sounds uncannily like the original frontman and does successfully create a sense of nostalgia.
All ears are obviously on Warren, who proves that he's very nearly the second coming of Hoon from the opening title track. In terms of tone and phrasing, Warren is right on the money. For such a tough task, he does a solid job of recreating the sound of the 90's Blind Melon. Of course, it's impossible to imitate the charisma of Hoon, who just had a natural wit and sense of abandon that came across in every track. While Warren is playing it relatively safe in the way he sings at this point, he should still satisfy most fans, particularly when he puts his whole heart into songs like Hypnotized and Last Laugh.
The original members (guitarists Christopher Thorn and Rogers Stevens, bassist Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham) pick up exactly where they left off, creating layers upon layers of engaging instrumentation. Thorn and Stevens delivers some of their most impressive work in Last Laugh, which starts out with the same down-home, acoustic vibe that was so prevalent on the Soup album. While they could have sustained the mood in that intro a little longer, there's still a big payoff in the ending with a crescendo of electric work.
For My Friends feels much more like the band's self-titled debut than Soup, primarily for the fact there are more possibilities for singles. While I actually prefer Soup's darker sound and unusual, eerie harmonies, it's very possible that the No Rain devotees should find the newest album a very promising step for Blind Melon. You won't get anything like the haunting Mouthful of Cavities or the oddly wonderful Skinned, though, and it's that gustiness that is the main thing that is lacking. There are plenty of highlights, however, including the Beatles-esque Down On The Pharmacy and the organ-driven Sometimes. // 8
Lyrics: Blind Melon always liked to state that the songs were written as one, and For My Friends follows in that tradition. It's hard to say who had the heaviest hand in the lyrical portion, but the album delivers the same colorful vibe heard in earlier recordings. The title track is the perfect example with lyrics like, I remember we used to sit out back and drink until the morning light; Always bummin' smokes and talking trash about the pleasure we had; Summers come and gone; And the winter needs a song. The description of down-home was used earlier in the review, but it's that kind of feel that comes across in several songs. // 9
Overall Impression: Warren has a tough task ahead of him in terms of convincing die-hard Blind Melon fans that he can carry the torch, but he honestly is probably the best choice for the job. His vocal style comes very close to Hoon's, although it's obvious he's still playing it fairly safe. But all in all, For My Friends is a surprising victory for a band that almost seemed like a memory. The musicality has stayed as strong as ever, with ample solo work throughout. While they did take a step back from the darker side they showed on Soup, the 13 new tracks still have plenty of memorable moments that - and a few that deserve to have the same attention as No Rain. // 8