John Popper & the Duskray Troubadours / John Popper

John Popper & the Duskray Troubadours

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John Popper & the Duskray Troubadours' self-titled debut is what Popper refers to as the other half of his life apart from Blues Traveler. The band includes guitarist/keyboardist/producer/engineer Jono Manson, bassist Steve Lindsay, drummer Mark Clark, and guitarists Kevin Trainor and Aaron Beavers. There are a slew of guests as well. The 12 tunes on this offering find the band playing less acrobatic material than BT. This music is looser, full of easily identifiable melodies and based more in roots rock and even some pop. Whether playing ballads ("A Lot Like You" and "Hurt So Much"), blues-rock ("Bereft" and "Don't Tread on Me"), back-porch Americana ("Champipple"), straight-up rockers ("Leave It Up to Fate"), or even Muscle Shoals-influenced R&B ("Something Sweet"), the hooks are plentiful and the groove relaxed and easy. The obvious musical influence on the Duskray Troubadours here is the Band. Popper's voice and Manson's guitar take center stage; the former's harmonica is merely one more instrument in the mix with the exception of his rather lengthy solo on "All the Way Down" -- the album's best track -- and on the blues "Bereft." The more down-home numbers work better than the ballads; opener "Love Has Made It So" and "Something Sweet" may have dirty guitars, but still feel overly saccharine; Popper's voice stands at odds with his melody. It may be a small complaint, but it begs a bigger question: where, if anywhere, does music like this fit in the current cultural scenario? Or does it? Blues Traveler fans in particular and jam band fans in general will more than likely regard this much simpler music as unchallenging; for fans of hardcore roots rock this material may sound overly polished -- though it's obviously too raw and raucous for pop fans. In any case, there are more than enough good songs and fine performances here; there's plenty of pleasure for open-minded listeners.

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