J.P. Soars commands your attention. Whether he does it with his signature hollow body Epiphone or his two-stringed homemade cigar box diddley bow, Soars snaps heads around from the first note. Since winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2009 and being awarded the Albert King Award for best guitarist, Soars has built a rep as an eclectic bluesman who adapts a head-bustin’ arsenal of influences, including Hank Williams, Louis Jordan, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Miles Davis, and T-Bone Walker.
Soars recorded and toured with metal bands for years, but his head was turned around at age 18, when he won a raffle awarded him a new guitar and two tickets to see B.B. King and get the guitar signed.
For his latest, Let Go of the Reins, Soars teamed up with Tab Benoit at his Whiskey Bayou studio, with Red Hots drummer Chris Peet switching over to bass, Benoit on drums, and Soars on Dobro, dulcimer, and acoustic and electric guitars for a five-day session that yielded four covers and seven originals.
Soars pays homage to his Arkansas upbringing with a cover of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ 1973 hit “If You Wanna Get to Heaven,” one of his parents’ favorite tunes when Soars was a kid. But on his roughshod remake, Soars takes the Daredevils out behind the juke joint and whomps the bejeezus out of ’em, howling like a grave-dirt-gargling swamp demon as he flails the skin off the beast with his Epiphone.
In addition to the metal/country/blues fusion template floating around in his head, Soars also has a soft spot for Django Reinhardt, so much so that he usually drops in a couple of Django tunes in his sets and even performs some gypsy jazz shows with the Red Hots, plus a horn section and a piano, calling it J.P. Soars’ Gypsy Blue Revue. He covers Reinhardt’s “Minor Blues” here, a swingy, slippery presentation that has echoes of a more sophisticated take on The Ventures’ 1964 version of “The Pink Panther Theme.”
“Crow’s Nest” serves up a mess of wah-wah-fueled swamp fonk that becomes entangled with Tillis Verdin’s burbly B-3 embellishments till Soars severs the cables with some razor-sharp riffs.
“Let It Ride,” featuring Benoit on pedal steel, is a twangy, Bakersfield-y nod to his old guitar teacher, Randy Whatley, one of his dad’s bandmates who taught Soars to play lead and still sits in on his original composition when the band plays in Arkansas.
Soars has put together a rowdy, swampy package bustin’ at the seams, ready to get loose and spread the red-hot glory emanating from his fingertips