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The John Popper Project
The John Popper Project
Relix Records

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 matters.

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.

-Dan Warren

Track Listing:
1. Lapdance
2. Everything
3. All Good Children
4. In The Midst
5. Fire In Her Kiss
6. Louisiana Sky
7. Trigger
8. Horses
9. Took
10. Morning Light
11. Open Hand
12. Show Me
13. Pack Your Love

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