by: John Popper

In one sense, it is fair to ask why John Popper needed to make a solo album while Blues Traveler was still active, and still one of the more popular touring bands in America. The answer is Zygote itself. Popper is undeniably a strong presence in Blues Traveler, contributing not only the lead vocals, but co-writing songs and often putting his considerable harmonica prowess at center stage. Still, Blues Traveler is a genuine band, with each member providing specific individual contributions to the overall sound. Popper's debut album, Zygote, is clearly a solo album, emphasizing everything that he contributes to the band -- his supple singing, elongated phrasing, affection for blues-rock, and astounding harmonica playing. That said, it also has the excesses of a solo record -- studio chatter, instrumental indulgences, songs that sound a little too similar to each other -- but it has a different character than a Blues Traveler record: it's laid-back and song-oriented, and it often seems introspective. Popper's lyrics wind around themselves so much it's hard to tell if they're actually introspective, but in this case, the appearance counts for more than the reality, since the feeling is more important than the details. And that feeling on Zygote is warm and mellow, helping distinguish it as a Popper album, not a Traveler side-project. True, it's unlikely to win fans outside of the group's hardcore following -- there are catchy songs here, but few outright pop songs on the level of "Run Around" -- but it does make a case that Popper is a worthwhile solo artist in his own right. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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