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Slimmed-Down Blues Traveler Frontman Playing FTC With New Band

Blues Traveler's John Popper plays at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 25, at the Fairfield Theatre Company, 70 Sanford St.

He may have shrunk several shirt sizes, but John Popper is still as jolly and voluble as a big man. He laughs winningly, tells funny stories about opening for The Rolling Stones and appearing on "Roseanne," and talks enthusiastically about his new side project, The Duskray Troubadours. In other words, for Popper, once as big as a snowman, now melted down, upbeat personality has nothing to do with weight.

Clearly, this once-and-future frontman for Blues Traveler, is enjoying life. See him and his Troubadours on Monday at . Don't be surprised if, afterwards, you enjoy things a bit more, too.

"Next year, Blues Traveler will have been together 25 years," said Popper recently. "We all still love the band, but lately, putting songs together has seemed repetitive, like working on an assembly line. This time out, I wanted to shake up my songwriting methodology."

He has, beautifully.

With his new band, Popper's ridiculously-fluid harmonica playing and soulful vocals are still in evidence, certainly. But in new songs like "Something Sweet," the slimmed-down singer adds the kind of sprung-rhythm and bluesy melody you might associate with The Band or Van Morrison. One listen and the new songs stay in your head for days. Seems like Popper's approach has paid off.

"Usually, in Blues Traveler, the other guys bring the music to me and I put words to it," said Popper. "This time around, I worked with a guy named Jono Manson, from the band The Worms. It was a true collaboration. I helped shape both music and words. The whole process really opened my head up."

So much so that Popper says he's continued the co-writing process for the next Blues Traveler with some other notable collaborators.

"I've been working with some really great artists," he said. "Most memorably Ron Sexsmith and Alejandro Escovedo. I think that next record is going to surprise people. In a really good way."

Speaking of atypical co-workers, Popper also mentions how strange it was to be on the sitcom  "Roseanne," back in the '90s.

"I'm pretty sure it all happened through John Goodman, who I met at Jazzfest," said Popper. "They had me on the show to play an old friend of (Goodman's character) Dan's, who's made it big and comes back to play in their hometown. I'd loved the show, it was just like crack to me. Being on was surreal, though. The weirdest thing was standing in their kitchen and looking in their cabinets. It can now be told, America. Dan and Roseanne Conner had fake plastic bologna in there."

You think it would be hard to top his role on a classic sitcom, but if anyone can it's Popper. After all, he and Blues Traveler opened up for The Rolling Stones in the mid-90s. That's going to be tough to better.

"They were incredibly friendly to us," said Popper. "They came into our dressing room before the show and hung out. I knew Keith was a big knife freak, so I showed him a new knife that I'd recently bought."

Then there's the bit of name-dropping that Popper says he tried so hard to avoid.

"My pal Chris Barron (of The Spin Doctors) and other guys I know, also opened for The Stones and two weeks later they were telling 'Mick' stories. You know they hung out with Jagger for 20 minutes and they'd be all, 'When I was talking to Mick....' I was determined not to do that."

Still, Popper claims it proved nearly impossible.

"I had asked Jagger if I could play harmonica on 'Miss You' and he told me to get lost. That's the song he plays harp on. Later, I read that Keith had suggested I play on the tune, too. Richards apparently said, 'Man, he's good!' To which Mick replied, 'Yeah, too good!' I read that later on and I thought, 'Well, you've really made it.' "

Popper then cracks up.

"But I realized, man, now I have a Mick story, too. But you know. What can you do?"

INFO: John Popper and The Duskray Troubadours will be at The Fairfield Theatre Company on Monday, April 25th at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7. Tickets are $42, members save $10. For information, call 203-259-1036

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