Decades after defining their distinctive blues-tinged, pop-rock sound, Blues Traveler are stretching their boundaries with a new album that includes collaborations with, among other artists, two high-profile country acts.
On the iconic band’s newly-released Blow Up the Moon, Jewel joins lead singer John Popper on “Hearts Are Still Alive,” an aching meditation on lost love spun over a heavy, power-ballad beat. Thompson Square are featured on two tracks. “Matador” opens with a Spanish guitar intro that gives way to another slow-tempo spectacle. The vocals, shared by Popper, Keifer Thompson and Shawna Thompson, conjure a bullfight in which the aggrieved animal finally gets its due — a metaphor perhaps for the entertainment business.
Thompson Square return on “I Can Still Feel You,” another ballad, though the focus is less on dramatics than on sensuality, with references to summer heat, cool grass and lots of rain. Blues Traveler back up the duo’s vocals with a righteous, organ-driven feel. All three songs include Popper’s trademark high-velocity harmonica solos, though he holds back a bit on “Matador” to underscore the dramatic storyline.
Among the album’s non-country guest performers are 3OH!3, Bowling for Soup, JC Chasez from ‘NSync, the Dirty Heads, Hanson, New Hollow, Thomas Ian Nicholas and Plain White T’s.
Popper credits Blues Traveler’s manager, Lani Sarem for coming up with the concept behind Blow Up the Moon. “She really had an idea for a collaboration and the artists she had in mind were with Blues Traveler in mind,” he tells Rolling Stone. “It seems to me that the coolest thing about us is that we don’t know what’s cool about us, and so if we actually said, ‘Hey, who would this band work well with?’ I think we’d fuck it up somehow. So you kind of need somebody who’s looking at you and saying, ‘Do you know what’s cool about you?’ They remind you about a part of yourself that you might dismiss.”