Phil Varca and the SlamJammers – Don’t Push Me & Cash
On the cusp of celebrating their thirtieth birthday as an active touring and recording unit, Phil Varca and the SlamJammers has shifted lineups a few times over their nearly three decade history, but an abiding commitment to musical excellence and genuine passion has always remained one of their staples. The latest singles from this long respected live and recording act, “Don’t Push Me” and “Cash”, are emblazoned with the same fiery fretwork and emotive, gritty vocals from Varca that has made him one of the genre’s truly formidable, if a bit under the radar, artistic forces. He carries on the band’s music very much in the tradition of performers like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Bonamassa, and other high powered electric guitar driven units. The three piece configuration of the band has been in place for a number of years after a brief period playing as a four piece and there’s a certainty of sound heard in this recording signaling their conviction that the band is on the right path.
The rhythm section of bassist Tom Porter and drummer Russell Stone lay down a brisk and deep groove for the track “Cash” and the guitar pyrotechnics Varca conjures in the song are just right and punctuate Porter and Stone’s foundation with idiosyncratic flair. The production is stellar and does an artful job of separating the instruments and giving the mix enough bottom end focus to anchor it while still emphasizing things like the guitar and vocals. Warmth surrounds the instrumentation without ever overwhelming the listener, yet it sounds like the band is performing live for the recording. You can definitely hear Varca and the band’s influences, but he tempers the loose Stevie Ray Vaughn Texas-fied blues feel with a big city funk and soul edge that leaps out to the audience.
“Don’t Push Me” gives up the soulful funk leanings of “Cash” in favor of a rockier blues track with a perfectly paced strut. The swagger is coming on listeners from the first and Varca locks onto it with his own effective vocal that swings every bit as much as the music. It’s a bit more lyrically involved than the earlier track and Varca shows off some real nuance in his vocal by giving it just the right amount of restrained aggression. He’s a powerful vocalist whose unconventional voice will only briefly jar newcomers before they get used to his deep feeling voice. “Don’t Push Me” is, arguably, the better of the two tracks and has every bit of the same live feel that we hear in the earlier “Cash”. Phil Varca and the SlamJammers are a musical powerhouse who come rampaging out of the corner swinging, but they never sacrifice nuance along the way. Their latest two singles are among the most satisfying moments in their career and promise even brighter days to come.