Blues Traveler's brush with superstardom faded more than ten
years ago, but frontman John Popper remains as creative and
prolific as he was in 1994. And, while it's still common to hear "Run-Around"
or "Hook" on mainstream radio, Popper has never been willing
to compromise his art to try to regain that audience. The harmonica
virtuoso's latest record, The John Popper Project, is a bit
of an oddity in his catalog. The album is the debut of a foursome
consisting of Mosaic drummer Marcus Bleecker, Blues
Traveler bassist Tad Kinchla, and turntablist DJ Logic.
Although Logic's beats and soundscapes add layers to the album, at
its core the record has the same focal points of any Blues Traveler
or John Popper album: Popper's distinctive vocals and his incomparable
harmonica skills. And that, for Popper's loyal fans, is all that really
With the exception of the propulsive pop-rock of "Everything,"
which would be a standout on any Blues Traveler album, there is nothing
truly great on The John Popper Project. Despite the uneven
songwriting, the record succeeds because its minimalist production
and spontaneous, impassioned performances make even the weakest songs
entertaining. The earthy blues of "Fire In Her Kiss" and
the frenzied instrumental breakdown in "Trigger" are among
the finer examples of the band's tremendous chemistry. Throughout
the record, the interplay between the four veteran musicians makes
it hard to believe this is a side project.
The impact of The John Popper Project is much stronger than
its individual songs. "Everything," with its washes of organ
and Popper's especially impassioned vocals, is an instant classic,
but most of the songs succeed in spite of the uneven songwriting.
In fact, the record's most memorable and poignant track is not one
of the stronger compositions: "Louisiana Sky" is a powerful
reflection of the hope that has sustained New Orleans in the aftermath
of Hurricane Katrina, featuring a lively cameo from Chicago-based
rapper Mr. Greenweedz. It is far from a masterpiece, but it
remains the group's bravest statement. Even with the highlights, though,
The John Popper Project is too inconsistent to rank with Popper's
best work. Songs like the lyrically-contrived "Took" and
the pedestrian opener "Lapdance," which falters in spite
of an inventive, minimalist blues riff, make the album's hour-long
length a bit tiresome for all but the devoted.
Whatever he is singing and whatever musicians he works with, Popper
is such an original that his trademark sound is a part of every track
he records. On The John Popper Project, his playing and the
band's are impeccable, and it is a testament to Logic's precise talents
that he is able to add textures to these tracks without drawing too
much attention. Those who have followed Popper this far will not be
disappointed. Casual listeners may want to seek out Travelogue:
Blues Traveler Classics, a best-of compilation released in 2002,
or explore Blues Traveler's bountiful back catalog.
3. All Good Children
4. In The Midst
5. Fire In Her Kiss
6. Louisiana Sky
10. Morning Light
11. Open Hand
12. Show Me
13. Pack Your Love
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