I liked JP Soars before I had heard a note of “Southbound I-95”.

Here’s why: “I like T-Bone Walker, Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt, Pete Fountain, Louis Armstrong, Guitar Slim, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf. “But at the same time, I also love Willie Nelson, George Jones, Tito Puente, Black Sabbath, and old Metallica. If it moves me, I dig it.”

Those words, right there. That’s enough. I never did understand those people who say “I only like metal….” Why limit yourself? The guitar is versatile, right?

It says much for my musical breadth that I knew of the “I-95” from a Sheryl Crow lyric way back when. She took the I-95 down to Pensacola, if I recall, but all she found was a bunch of holy rollers. JP Soars evidently explored a little more, because, goodness me, there’s some stuff across these 15 songs. Enough, certainly to last from Canada to Florida as the road itself does.

It starts in laid back (and blissed out given that he’s smoking “a little ‘erb” in the second line) fashion with “Ain’t No Dania Beach” but no sooner as the Miami coastline lapped up on our toes that we’re off doing something funky as you like on “Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me” and given that I’ve been a Southside Johnny fan all of my life, you’d best believe that a horn section is always welcome.

You can’t rest on your laurels though, not here, and not on this record. Because the title track is proper surf rock, and the rasping vocals make it special (and Jason Newstead plays the bass, so frankly JP don’t care what you think, he’s winning.)

“Shining Through The Dark” is a trip into something soulful with some mighty saxophone, and “Satisfy My Soul” is the type of R & B thing that Eli “Paperboy” Reed usually makes his own.

Although he cut his teeth in metal bands, Soars got bitten by the blues after seeing BB King in the 80s, and he returns to that on the wonderful “Raised In California”, perhaps more personal than some of the others, it is marvellously done. And let’s just say that if Joe Bonamassa had done Albert King’s “When You Walk Out That Door” as well as it is here, then his mansion probably gets another wing.

There’s another cover. Muddy Waters “Deep Down In Florida” is given a fresh twist, while the Django influence really comes to the fore on the glorious instrumental “Across The Desert”.

It is staggering actually how consistent this record is considering how lengthy and diverse it is. And the sheer scope of what it takes in is probably encapsulated by the last three songs.  “Dog Catcher” is a fun little strutter, while “Troubled Waters” has a real hint of The Stones about it, and “Go With The Flow” is a lengthy, jazz infused instrumental. What is most interesting about that one though, is not that he does it – to be fair, by then all bets are off – but rather the way it concludes is with a conversation you are almost eavesdropping on.

It is indicative, perhaps of one of the most convivial and eclectic records you will hear. Almost as if that’s what they did. Sat down, chatted, jammed and went wherever the “I-95” took them on the journey.

Rating 8.5/10