A native of East Brunswick, NJ, Dave Vargo started playing the guitar at the age of eight and by the age of 14 was performing throughout the Tri-State Area with various jazz, funk, and rock bands. He graduated from Berklee College of Music with honors and went on to become a touring sideman and session player. He has had the privilege of working with some notable talents including Whitney Houston, Phoebe Snow, Vonda Shepard, and Rupert Holmes.
Dave currently performs both solo and as part of an acoustic duo (Kim and Dave). He is also an active session player and songwriter. His debut album, Burning Through, is available now. Dave also has the affliction I like to call G.A.S.: Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. Some of the instruments he features on his recordings are a veritable smorgasbord of musical goodness. From his collection of Martin and Gibson acoustics to his Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster and American vintage 1958 Telecaster, Dave has the excellent tools to make his music sing out with style, and that’s what we get on Burning Through.
Burning Through kicks things off with “Come Take Me Home.” Vargo plies his trade in the sounds of the classics. “Come Take Me Home” is a heady mix of new country and 1970s soft rock in the vein of Firefall or England Dan and John Ford Coley. Choruses are amazingly strong and stay with you for days as Vargo’s merry men (the band recording consists of Dave Vargo – guitars & vocals, Tim Pannella – drums and percussion, Erik Romero – bass and keys, and Kim Boyko – backing vocals) play integral parts to make this song the super country crossover I’m sure it will become. Vargo’s guitar work is simple and elegantly understated. Drums and bass work supplied by Panella and Romero are superbly grooved and nail this tune straight to the tarmac. Boyko and Vargo sing like they grew up together. Seamless and smooth, the vocals on this song glide into the listener’s mind without a problem. For the first song on a CD, I’m extremely impressed with the compositional style and quality. To me, this could be in any number of new country stations across the nation.
The next musical gem is “Good Enough.” Featuring a fat backbeat (courtesy of Pannella) “Good Enough” moves out of the gate with all the power of The James Gang or The Outlaws. Dirty electric guitars stick to the melody like crazy glue as Vargo sings his proverbial ass off. Vargo has a unique vocal style and reminds me of modern day heroes such as Chris Knight or Rod Picott. Once again the vocal assist of Kim Boyko is both vital and pleasant to the ears. Vargo has a classic sensibility when it comes to his writing, and that comes across like gangbusters on “Good Enough.” Another song that should do well on a variety of radio options.
“Choose” is up next. Vargo and crew switch things up with upbeat, mid-paced intro work before heading into their inspirational chorus. The band works as an active unit, each player delivering substantial contributions to the song as a whole. Dave’s guitar work is pentatonic; blues rock-based goodness. His lead is both frenetic and melodically sound, and I love the way he gets in and out before the next chorus. It’s also hooky as it supplies the song with its catchy piece of the pie.
The next tune is “Wishing On A Star.” Acoustic guitars roll on underneath Vargo’s raw vocal. Shakers add ambiance as Vargo sets up his verse work like a champ. More percussion joins the fray, supporting Dave’s lyrical hopes and dreams into the chorus. “Wishing On A Star” is yet another song that delivers classic rock sounds without tripping all over itself to stay relevant. I know Vargo has been around for some time, but this is the first time I’ve heard him and this song joins the previous tracks as pure gold.
“Finding My Way To You” is next into the speakers. Again Vargo kicks things off acoustically before drummer Tim Pannella leads the band into the song. Pannella’s skin work is thick and in the pocket, just the type of drummer any great rock band might want. He doesn’t overplay or take outlandish runs across the toms, and he just plays for the song and it’s great. He is joined by Erik Romero on bass, Romero is solid and complements Pannella perfectly. By the time Vargo comes in on electric guitar, the sound is all there. Dave utilizes volume swells and complex chord challenges as he sings with Boyko. His middle-eight lead break reminds me of original Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King. King was an understated player who helped shape some of Skynyrd’s biggest hits, and Vargo has that haunting, dark and sparkly sound as well. Another strong song with a winning chorus to boot!
Dave and company move on with “Too Young To Be Broken.” Vargo steps into the dark undertones of broken dreams and promises from the past on this one. An acoustic lead break slashes into the piece with bronze-tinted glory as percussion shakes in the background. Verses melt into catchy choruses as the band marches to its own unique beat. Vargo is back with an acoustic guitar lead break in the middle eight, and it’s a simple foray into brilliance. While this song may have more of a minor feel than the rest so far, it’s a beautiful tune that should do well for Vargo’s career.
“Waiting” is another acoustic-based piece and it’s up next. Vargo’s voice reminds me of Darius Rucker on this one. Pannella skips along in the back, keeping hi-hat time and coming in with a shuffle as Romero joins him before Vargo zips in with a dark and melodic lead line before hitting the next verse. The guitar line is another great example of a hook as it complements the vocal perfectly.
Next up is “Right Now.” Vargo hits the guitar like Mark Knopfler on this one. Bass and drums pound as Vargo sings through his verses. This song reminds me of the glory days of Warren Zevon in tone and style. The lead work is canorous and precise, leaving plenty of room for the rhythm section to do their rock steady thing. While this may be more of a deep cut on this disc, it is still a great song.
I had to skip a couple of tunes due to space, but the final song is “Pieces Of My Heart.” This is a rock and roll song in the vein of Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” Bridges are more open than that classic, but the intros and verses remind me of that radiance. The choruses are powerful, super pushed blasts of original rock supplied by the band. Monster hits push this boisterous rocker into the stratosphere. A great job with an exceptional song.
I hope that Dave Vargo continues in this vein as it’s something I just don’t see enough of. In a scene filled with hokey, overplayed Americana and faux punk rock, it’s an exuberating experience to hear fresh takes on real classic sounds.
Vargo can be seen next at Novita in Metuchen, NJ on Nov. 10. For more information on Dave Vargo and his new disc, head over to davevargomusic.com to get the details.