Dave Vargo, a singer/songwriter from the New Jersey area, has paid his musical dues ably supporting a number of high profile performers. He’s taken the lessons learned working with those artists, coupled them with his own talent and experiences, and released an outstanding debut solo effort entitled Burning Through. The quality of this album will undoubtedly burnish his reputation far more and establishes him as one of the best singer/songwriters working on the indie scene today. He’s co-produced this album with his drummer Tim Pannella and each of the tracks pops and bristles with an impressive energy level despite its frequent acoustic nature. It is a deceptively simple sound to pursue, but avoiding cliché at this late date in popular music history is no mean feat and there isn’t a single formulaic or false moment on the release. Instead, Vargo takes recognizable formulas and transforms them with his unique blend of technique and faithfulness to his experiences. He proves himself to be an underrated vocalist as well and the added value his singing brings to these songs further distinguishes them from cookie cutter efforts in this genre.
The rollicking guitar charge of “Come Take Me Home” begins, like many of the songs on this album begin, as an acoustic singer/songwriter styled track. Vargo adds more musical elements to the arrangement as it progresses and the song ends as, arguably, the album’s hardest edged rock track. “Good Enough” sets the customary form for rock-infused tracks on Burning Through and, instead of the opener’s wild peaks, pursues a more consistent line of attack employing different dynamics, a light organ coloring in the background, and a greater focus on melody. The first and second songs set a decisive tone musically, but Vargo stamps his personality on listener’s initial introduction to his music. Though there’s nothing overtly bluesy about his voice, per se, he certainly invokes a weariness with his vocals that’s never too theatrical and exhibits enough range to make for musically pleasing fare. The same authentic, slightly ragged but right edge defining those first two songs continues with “Choose”, but it’s slightly assertive lyrical and musical edge is much more reminiscent of the opener.
“Wishing on a Star” uses percussion with sparing, but highly dramatic, effect. This is a song that, at risk of taking it a little too seriously, sounds like a personal testament about the importance of persisting with your dreams. One cannot help but hear this as a bit of self-reflection about the opportunities afforded by recording his first solo album. One of the album’s most remarkable marriages of vocal and music comes with the song “Finding My Way to You”. The seemingly simple, direct musical attack is made all the more amazing by Vargo’s lung-busting vocal. The early half of “Waiting” has a lyrical acoustic bent, but has a rolling quality when the drumming comes in that serves as a good counterpoint for the vocal melody.
“Right Now” has the same impetus implied by its title, but it never comes off as strident or premeditated. The base of all these songs, likely even in their demo form, is the acoustic guitar and Vargo builds from that base including contributions from his accompanying band. One might fear the formula gets older over the course of eleven songs, but even the traditional approach he takes on a song like “Right Now” pays off with surprising freshness. There’s almost a near reggae quality to the penultimate track “Don’t Think Twice”, but it certainly shouldn’t be labeled as such. “Don’t Think Twice”, in sound and form, is a minor surprise this late on the release and serves as a final reminder that Vargo is far from a limited composer. It’s these qualities, among many others, that helps set Burning Through apart as one of the best singer/songwriter releases of the new year.
by Lance Wright