John Popper Project
John Popper Project / self-titled
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2006, Volume 13, #11
Written by John Metzger
Apparently, John Popper has a newfound love of atmospheric arrangements. Although Bastardos!, the most recent set from his primary outfit Blues Traveler, failed in its attempt to place a modernized spin upon his soul- and blues-inflected material, he surprisingly has returned to similarly textured terrain for his eponymous debut with the John Popper Project. Jettisoning former Wilco member Jay Bennett’s kitchen-sink production in favor of DJ Logic’s turntable technique, Popper and his backing band — which also includes bass player Tad Kinchla and drummer Marcus Bleeker — strive for a better amalgamation of styles. It’s only on occasion, however, that the quartet truly hits its mark.
Although the outing begins in a promising fashion as DJ Logic’s effects float like wraiths around the fringes of Lapdance’s deep, dark, swirling groove, the bulk of the material on the John Popper Project’s self-titled endeavor never coalesces in quite the manner that it should. Save for the abysmal In the Midst, nearly every track on the effort contains at least one moment when the ensemble seems to stumble upon something that works, but just as quickly, it loses its train of thought. The undercurrents of Latin-tinged jazz that peek around the corners of Morning Light, for example, are intriguing, but they never fully realize their potential. Likewise, the dry detachment of guest vocalist Greenweedz’s lyrical rap on the post-Katrina commentary Louisiana Sky manages to set up the warm optimism of the tune’s Popper-sung chorus, but overall, it undeniably could have benefitted from a punchier, more urgent delivery. Elsewhere, ideas are stretched until they break — the most egregious example is Horses — while other songs feel either out of place (Everything) or like leftovers (All Good Children).
Simply put, side projects notoriously are composed from lesser material, and unfortunately, the John Popper Project’s debut has it in spades. There’s little doubt that Popper is slowly edging his way forward in his quest to bathe his compositions in a new light, but for the most part, his new band’s eponymous effort merely makes a modest improvement upon Blues Traveler’s own recent concoctions. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box