Let’s get the obvious joke out of the way right from the start. JP Soars – he sure does. In fact, he not only soars, he glides, dips, loops around and pretty much works his guitar like an experienced stunt pilot maneuvering a plane.
If Soars’ name is familiar to you, it’s likely for one of two reasons: you’re either from the South Florida area, which the guitarist has called home for two and half decades, or you discovered him in the aftermath of the 2009 International Blues Challenge, where he and his band the Red Hots won appearances at blues festivals across the nation for taking first place. Soars faced stiff competition in Memphis that year – the third-place winners, Ottawa, Canada’s MonkeyJunk, have also since found acclaim and a home on a major blues record label.
JP Soars' More Bees With Honey
Soars has chosen the independent route for his second album More Bees With Honey, but that doesn’t mean he’s lacking for help. Well-known sax player Terry Hanck returns from Soars’ first release, Back of My Mind, this time assisted by fellow saxist Gordon Beadle, harmonica player Jason Ricci and, most poignantly, the late blues vocalist Robin Rogers.
More Bees With Honey is very much a traditionalist blues album, and if that’s your bag, you’ll find plenty here to like, with a sampling of just about every electric blues style lending a nice sense of variety. The title track opens with a killer ascending guitar riff leading into sax lines that fit the song’s aggressive melody perfectly. When Rogers chimes in with her duet vocals, you can see why Soars chose to open the album with such an irresistibly upbeat number.
Keep Your Nose Out Of My Business
Ricci’s harp contributions are front and center on "K.Y.N.O.M.B.," a classic-sounding shuffle whose lyrical theme echoes the jazz/blues standard "T’aint Nobody’s Business If I Do." (Key line: "Keep your nose out of my business, and I’ll keep mine out of yours/Now don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t afford.") Still, it’s Soars’ guitar that does most of the talking here, his lengthy solo a thing of beauty, economy and toughness all at once. Then he turns around and does a 180 on the heartache-laced ballad "So Many Times," where Soars sounds on the verge of weeping as he declares, "You’ve done left me so many times that my tears have run dry."
The disc’s highlight is "Hot Little Woman." Even written and performed as it is by a Floridian, it could pass for a top-notch West Coast blues number. With its tricky rhythmic changes – not just between verse and chorus but literally from line to line – this half-swing, half-shuffle couldn’t have been easy for Soars’ band (drummer Chris Peet, bassists Todd Edmunds and Donald Gottlieb, and keyboardist Travis Colby) to pull off.
Louisiana Red's Sweet Blood Call
Other standouts here include "Lost It All,” a minor-key blues of misery where Soars’ guitar flutters with the influence of gypsy jazz pioneers like Django Reinhardt, and Baby Face Leroy’s "Where’d You Stay Last Night," where Soars brings out his homemade two-string cigar-box guitar, ending the album on a hypnotic, almost Hill Country-esque note.
A cover of Louisiana Red’s excellent "Sweet Blood Call," a harrowing song of murderous intent ("I’ll have a hard time missing you, baby, with my pistol in your mouth"), doesn’t succeed as well. In Red’s hands, the song sounded downright chilling, in that Robert Johnson, "Hellhound On My Trail" kind of way. Here, Soars’ full-band arrangement overpowers the tune’s ominous sentiment, somewhat deadening – pardon the pun – the effect. "Chasing Whiskey With Whiskey," an acoustic ode to alcohol, adds diversity to the album but, at seven minutes, overstays its welcome.
Ken's Bottom Line
Still, Soars is a fine blues traditionalist, and on those terms he succeeds quite well. I sense he’s capable of stretching out more, though, and I’d like to see him take more chances as he gets a little age on him. Like his first album, More Bees With Honey finds him tackling the blues with aplomb, and if it feels as if he’s playing it slightly safe, that can be forgiven.
A young artist with a bright future, Soars has plenty of time to learn to experiment a bit. Regardless, on its own terms, More Bees With Honey offers a fine example of contemporary electric blues emulating several essential traditional styles. (Soars High Productions, released March 15, 2011)
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