Phil Varca and the SlamJammers
Phil Varca and the SlamJammers are aces in a blues genre that’s built largely around the talents of its respective singers and guitar players. That’s no different with Phil Varca and his band mates – Varca is ably supported by Tom Porter on bass and Russell Stone on drums. It’s the latest and longest standing iteration of a band that’s been gigging and recording since 1989 – they’ve established themselves as one of the fiercest and most soulful practitioners of this classic form working today. There’s never any overly reverential treatment of blues from these musicians. The pedigree of performers they’ve opened or shared stages with like Buddy Guy, Joe Bonamassa, and Robin Trower illustrates their own direction as a hard-hitting unit keyed around Varca’s dramatic guitar and vocal style surging with passion that’s all their own. Their new singles “Don’t Push Me” and “Cash” embody all the best qualities of their music and point the way towards an even brighter future for this veteran trio.
The years of recordings and live performances come across in their new music – few studio recordings could claim to harbor the same visceral live feel that you hear on the band’s new songs. “Cash” and “Don’t Push Me” are cut from a distinctly different cloth, both in pace and feel, but remain close enough together that they sound very much part and parcel of the same band. “Cash” has a more straight-forward, average bent, particularly in subject matter, and is a much busier musical piece than the second song. Despite the busier nature of the recording, Varca and his band mates never overwhelm the listener and there’s a laser-focus to the arrangement that maximizes its impact. Varca’s vocal brings its customary gritty realism to the singing, but he also bites deep into the song’s inherent lasciviousness without ever laying it on too thick.
There’s a jagged knife edge thrust to the mid-tempo blues rock of “Don’t Push Me” that musters more energy and power than the earlier song ever quite manages. This isn’t intended as a slight to “Cash” – it’s a great song, but “Don’t Push Me” is even more powerful and has a muscular force generated by both the drumming and guitar alike that makes this a crisp, hard-hitting musical experience. Varca’s vocal is more than up to the challenge and builds great drama on top of the foundation provided by bassist Tom Porter and drummer Russell Stone and, all the better, he gets over the indignation of the lyric without ever straining for effect. It’s an impressive combination from this longstanding musical unit. Phil Varca and the SlamJammers have scored again with “Cash” and “Don’t Push Me” and shows no signs of slowing down almost three decades into their career. The ride is still streaking along at this point, so if you’ve never heard the band before, there’s still time to take a trip on their musical roller coaster.