John Popper was just a teenager, skipping class and playing the harmonica in the Princeton High School hallways in New Jersey, when a band teacher found him and asked if he wanted to join the high school's prestigious studio band. It was a big turn for the then-amateur musician, now considered one of the best harmonica virtuosos of his generation. Since those humble high school days, Popper, with the band he formed, Blues Traveler, has released 12 studio albums and toured the world.
Popper uses his harmonica like a jazz horn, improvising extended solos, backing up choruses, and weaving in textures like a seasoned saxophonist. The band's 2015 release, Blow Up the Moon, is at times bombastic and at times precise, even island-inspired. It's a great record for a summer party — especially for those who have been following the band its whole career, admiring its development.
Many know the songs "Run Around" and "Hook," but Blues Traveler has quite a few other hits, too: the fast-paced "But Anyway," the emotional "Sweet Pain," and the bluesy-jump record "Carolina Blues," to name a few. And instead of sticking to one style, Blow Up the Moon dabbles in several genres. "Nikkia's Prom," a gang-chorus beauty with a touch of country twang, might be the hit of the record. The song features the Plain White T's to boot.
"Most my life, I've been trying to find a shelter from the storm," Popper sings on his latest album's opening track, "Hurricane."
If his longevity and commercial successes so far are any indication, it seems he's done an excellent job staving off the downpours the lonely kid in the hallway might have dreaded in those early years. Now, he's the one with the experience, with the power to pick someone out of a crowd. He's the one with perspective, and it would seem that only the sky — er, the moon — is the limit.
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