An album titled after the longest running North-South Interstate in the United States has got to cover a lot of ground. Traveling from Canada through Maine and down the east coast, finally ending just south of Miami, FL, the highway represents the distance J.P. Soars has traveled since he grew up in Cedarfield, Arkansas.
Now a major force in the blues world, Soars has also played rock and has studied jazz greats before he focused on the blues. His newest album, Southbound I-95, is 13 tracks written by Soars along with two covers.
Soars is the main vocalist and guitarist and he’s joined by his two regular partners in crime, Chris Peet on drums, percussion, and electric and upright bass and Travis Colby on a variety of keyboards. There’s also a slew of special guests and friends contributing to some of the songs including Jason Newstead and Greg Morency on bass; Lee Oskar on harmonica; Jimmy Thackery, Albert Castiglia on guitar; Paul DesLauries on slide; Reza Filsoofi, Sam Harrisson, Oscar Santiago, and Jeremy Staska on percussion; Terry Hanck and Sax Gordon on tenor sax; Tino Barker on bari sax; and Scott Ankrom on tenor and bari sax, trumpet, and clarinet. Teresa James provided backing vocals.
The album starts off with the lowkey Ain’t No Dania Beach. It’s got a serious country vibe and at times sounds more like something you would hear on beach music shows than blues, but there’s some sweet slide guitar and it’s kind of nice to hear a real blues artists take a walk on the mild side.
The next song, Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me, is a bit darker in tone and language. There’s a word in the lyrics that is more than frowned upon by the FCC, so those of us bound by the rules of terrestrial radio probably won’t be playing this version. It’s still a good song however with flashes of guitar pyrotechnics that will make all six-string fans happy.
Soars and his friends follow up with the title track, Southbound I-95. This is a kick ass number that uses some of the best surf rock tropes to make it work. Think Dick Dale for the guitar work, but the vocals are darker. It’s kind of like surf noir but it’s very exciting to hear.
The horn section gets a workout on the next track Shining Through The Dark. It’s a soft California style rock song that is gentle and uplifting. Soars is truly exploring new territory and turning in good performances with them. I hope he finds more of a crossover audience on the album, because he is really showing he’s not locked into one style.
He switches thing up on the old school rocking The Grass Ain’t Always Greener. I’m talking Fats Domino or Jerry Lee Lewis old school. Great piano and super energy on the vocals. This one has got to be a killer when done live and should satisfy any fan who likes the blues with a rock edge. Definitely going to be playing this one.
Speaking of old school, you can’t get much more old school than Arkansas Porch Party. Just a bunch of friends sitting out on the porch on a summer’s evening passing a bottle around (or something that can produce similar effects) and playing. No need to rush, no need to be perfect with every chord or phrase, the evening belongs to them. Sweet instrumental with lots of charm.
The band kicks things up a few notches with Satisfy My Soul. Soars growls his way through the lyrics and the music is lively. Born In California follows. This one has a darker story attached with Soars talking about his life going from California to Arkansas and now to Florida. Good song and strong vocal delivery from Soars.
Albert King’s When You Walk Out That Door is next. The first of two covers, this one gets to showcase some great work by Thackery and Soars. Pure blues and it captures King’s spirit in both vocals and guitar. This one will definitely satisfy blues fans. After that is a cover of Muddy Waters’ Deep Down In Florida, which features fellow Floridian Albert Castiglia playing guitar and adding his vocals to the mix. It’s got a cool funky feel to it and is fun to listen to.
The Latin flavored instrumental Across The Desert sweeps through and it’s a great song. I love the music from south of the border (and I’m not talking about that tourist joint in South Carolina either) and this captures it nicely. Lee Oskar’s harmonica work is a pleasure to listen to and I somehow feel like strolling into the cantina down the street…
It’s a poppy feel to the next song, Dog Catcher. It made me think of some of the best work of Dr. John, and that’s not too shabby. The percussion is very Caribbean-New Orleans and a catchy hook. Cool song. They follow that with a lower key number, Troubled Waters. It has some unusual instrumentation that makes the song standout.
The last new song on the album is Go With The Flow. There’s a little bit of Sing Sing Sing in the opening and a great big band vibe. I’ve always loved that style of jazz and this is one that I’m going to recommend to our jazz producer at the station. Cool instrumental. The last song is a radio edit of Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me, and without that pesky word, it just might be able to get some airplay on terrestrial radio.
J.P. Soars has a well-deserved reputation as one of the hottest guitar slingers on the planet right now. On Southbound I-95 he shows great presence not only with the blues, but with a few other enjoyable genres. Many, if not most artists tend to find their niche and mine that vein for all their worth. Others like to explore new avenues and while there is no right or wrong way, I’ve always preferred those that try different directions.
Whatever you consider your cup of tea, you’ll find something on this album, and if you’re looking for a different direction, try heading Southbound on I-95 or just point your browser to http://www.jpsoars.com/.