Off Yer Rocka [Release date 27.10.14]
It’s 23 years since Javier Vargas first announced himself to European blues audiences. In the interim, the Spanish rock blues guitarist has established himself a Latino blues crossover artist who has also prospered in South America.
‘From The Dark’ is his best album yet , showcasing his a broad sweep of styles and some fiery guitar playing, full of scorching solos, an array of deep tones and rampant slide. And in British vocalist Gaz Pearson he’s found the perfect foil to bring real presence to the material.
Javier’s playing is never less than spontaneous and intense. He’s capable of rocking out and then dropping down, to nuance an emotion or emphasize a groove. This is best exemplified by the closing track ‘Esperanto’ on which he cleverly combines acoustic and electric guitar to achieve an eastern sounding tone over delicate percussion, to create a spell binding tension which he eventually resolves on a gentle hypnotic outro.
In between the incendiary runs, the big slide rushes and the bursting solos, there’s a consistent musical presence steering the ship. He’s happiest driving his band on to the next level, but he’s also got an ear for a decent melody. And it’s that balance between virtuoso playing, tight arrangements and the importance of a melody that makes ‘From The Dark’ different from the usual blues outing.
The album opens with the bulldozing ‘Bye Bye Zombie’ on which Javier soars to punctuate a wall of sound with wah-wah shaped solos, whammy bar incursions and spontaneous flurries.
He’s joined by fine Brit vocalist Gaz Pearson who brings presence and a fine range to give the material real gravitas, as Javier adds bruising slide
‘After Dark’ is a guitar driven album, full of incisive riffs, sultry grooves and blistering solos that are an integral part of the song, before Javier pushes on into the unknown, as on the hypnotic ‘Let It Go’.
It’s only on the hard driven melody of ‘Moon Light Blues’ that there is any suggestion of his trademark Latino influence, but he redresses the balance quickly with the very radio friendly ‘Radioactivity’. The song features the album’s best melody and a Los Lobos style vocal, and sweeping slide over a relentless dance beat. It’s the kind of track that could see the band hit pay dirt after 2 decades of a relentlessly slogging round the international blues circuit.
‘Runaway’ isn’t far behind in its radio friendly crossover appeal, with a catchy hook, on a chiming guitar-led piece with a ZZ top feel, as Javier’s snakes his solo in and out of the groove.
Not everything works quite as well, with ‘Palace of the King’ being something of a lazy choice to cover. Dani Wilde and Gaz Pearson duet impressively, but can’t quite capture our imagination on an overworked song that has seen at least 4 covers versions this year alone.
‘Inner Sun’ smoulders but fails to ignite, while ‘Stealer Of Love’ sounds like an early 70’ Free cast off. But these are but hiccups on an otherwise fine album, of which the title track rocks with grunge riff intensity.
Best of all is the after hours swagger of Javier’s ode to the late great Roy Buchanan on ‘Roy’s Blues’. His solo drips with feel as the notes rise to shimmer and sparkle conversationally over gentle organ accompaniment, as Javier pours all his lifetime blues experience into the defining track of a fine album. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra