Well, this is fun. Florida-based JP Soars has received a 2019 Blues Award nomination for Blues Rock Artist, which seems like an odd category choice to me, but Southbound I-95 is certainly an entertaining album that deserves attention.
Not that you’d guess this from the opening track ‘Ain’t No Dania Beach’, I suspect. A rather corny paean to the said seafront, Soars’ vocals sound like he’s maybe been overdoing some of the ‘erb mentioned in the lyric.
On the following ‘Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ though, Soars’ vocals find a gravelly, characterful sweet spot, that had me scratching my head for who I was reminded of. After a bit of pondering, I concluded it was Matt Isbell, of Memphis’s Ghost Town Blues Band, and in fact the GTBB sound is a good reference point for much of Southside I-95 – which is a good recommendation for starters in my book. And ‘Sure Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ is a good example of the grooving funk-blues Soars can deliver, with sharp lyrics, horn punctuation and subtle organ from Travis Colby adding richness to the mix.
|JP Soars chooses a big yellow one from his guitar locker
More mainstream are ‘Shining Through The Dark’ and ‘Satisfy My Soul’, the former conjuring up a warm, relaxed and optimistic vibe, with a soulful sax intro and perfectly judged guitar tones, and the latter a Stax soul belter, simple and straightforward over a snapping beat, with a jangling riff and squealing sax solo from Sax Gordon. And both tracks also feature spot on backing vocals from Teresa James into the bargain.
In between, ‘The Grass Ain’t Always Greener’ is a snappy bit of rock’n’roll, with bar-room piano from Colby, a stop-time riff, and honking sax, while ‘Arkansas Porch Party’ provides a breather in the form of a lightweight, acoustic instrumental of a country-ish blues hue.
If it’s yer actual blues you’re after, ‘Born In California’ is a more stripped back affair, with rasping slide guitar and vocals as gritty as the childhood hard times described in the tale of being raised in Arkansas, where the singer had “no money, but I sure had a lot of love”. And if that smacks of Mike Zito on a good day, ‘When You Walk Out That Door’ is a slow blues straight out of the BB King playbook, with a bitter lyric and exquisite guitar work, peaking in an expansive solo that’s well worth the time devoted to it.
After that, Soars elects to take another musical detour, with three songs of varying degrees of Latin ingredients. ‘Deep Down In Florida’ swings in a Mexican-sounding fashion, aided by woozy horns, while ‘Across The Desert’ is a melancholy instrumental that does goes exactly where it says on the tin, with laid back twanginess, and harp accompaniment from Lee Oskar, set to a Latino rhythm. And ‘Dog Catcher’ rounds off the triptych with something best described as salsa-blues, in a jaunty and lyrically wacky affair that smacks of the Mavericks here and the Allmans there.
The slower ‘Troubled Waters’ has Beatle-ish air to it, and along with ‘Dania Beach’ could maybe have been trimmed to bring more focus to an album that has plenty enough variety across the other material. But hey, that’s just my take on it. I strongly recommend you take a trip down Southside I-95, and find out for yourself what it has to offer.