“Hard Time Blues” – Vargas Blues Band

3 stars (out of 5)

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Vargas Scroller“Hard Time Blues”; well I’m not so sure about that. There are a lot of other influences in there as well (soul, funk, jazz and Latin for starters) and only the title track hints at the ‘things are so bad I’m gonna have to pawn my glass eye’ school of blues lyrics. Maybe most blues fans don’t actually pay as much attention to the lyrics as they do to the playing. You regularly hear solos applauded, but when was the last time you heard anyone shout ‘Wow that’s a really perceptive and insightful lyric’ at a blues gig?

So obviously this album is about Javier Vargas as a guitar player and he’s a very good and versatile player. He may not be too well known in the UK, but he’s toured extensively in support of the likes of Jeff Beck and Gary Moore and recorded with Carlos Santana. Listen to the album purely from a guitar enthusiast’s point of view and you won’t be disappointed. He shifts seamlessly between the Latin grooves of the opener “Welcome to the World” and “King of the Latin Blues”, the slow blues of “Burning Shuffle” and “Spanish Roads” and the manic jazz/eastern/blues fusion of “Space Jam”. There’s even a bit of a soul groove with the lovely, understated “Fulton in the House”.

The billing for the album is Vargas Blues Band featuring Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot) and I’m not quite sure that the combination works. Paul Shortino has a great voice for cutting through metal arrangements but I’m not convinced that it works with a band playing songs that are subtle and delicate at times. Keys player Tim Mitchell in the live section at the end of the album and drummer Peter Kunst and Guy Pearson seem to be a better fit with the band’s style. Not sure about the live version of “Tobacco Road” either.

And after saying all of that, I still like the album. The instrumentals all work well and Javier’s playing is superb whether he’s playing with or without slide, playing delicate, controlled solos or in full wig-out mode. He’s really worth listening to and he’ll be in the UK later in the year.

Meanwhile, “Hard Time Blues” will be out on June 10th on Santo Grial Records (VB 002 CD). Currently available on iTunes.