SEO – search engine optimization; it’s a hugely important factor in having an online presence. This particular John Williams has spent a long (and hugely productive) time under the radar in the music business. Now he’s released an album under his own name and he has to compete with a world-renowned classical guitarist and an equally-renowned film soundtrack composer. John Williams of the John Williams Syndicate has plugged records, produced records and BBC sessions, headed up an A&R department and made his own records. So it’s about time to make a few calls to former clients, and a few new discoveries, and work on that solo project in the shed at the bottom of the garden.

There are a lot of things to admire about “Out of Darkness”; as you would expect, the quality of the playing is masterful and the standard of the arrangements and production is superb. As well as pulling in vocal contributions from Petula Clark and Claudia Brücken and a co-write with the legendary Iain Matthews, John also enlists upcoming singers Slicko DiCaprio, Amber Prothero and Isabella Coulstock for lead and backing vocals on the album. Which brings me to the only minor criticism I have; with so many different singers and varied musical stylings, it’s difficult to find a sense of musical cohesion across the album as a whole, although there is a theme of renewal, springing out from the penultimate song, “Nothing” which, unusually, has some lyrical popular culture references set against a seventies singer-songwriter arrangement (maybe a hint of Al Stewart) with a vocal that hints at Stephen ‘Tintin’ Duffy’s Lilac Time period. Everything else on the album is a consequence of this rebirth.

Picking out a few standout moments, “Spanish Song”, co-written with Adrian York, Isabella Coulstock and Slicko DiCaprio, is the most contemporary pop song on “Out of the Darkness” with a Latin tinge and some interesting Spanish/English counterpoint vocals. The album’s final song, “Don’t Give Up on Me”, also has a Latin feel; the lyrics are minimal, but the playing is outstanding with lots of mini solos, including a sax/trumpet counterpoint solo; it’s memorable. “You Got Me from Hello” is cool jazz with Latin rhythms in a Carlos Santana/Rob Thomas style, while the piano-led “Luminescent”, with programmed percussion, nods in the direction of early Kate Bush.

This album is a serious musical project from a serious player; even the packaging is lush, with a thirty-two page booklet containing credits, lyrics and some Tim Hobart abstract paintings. The contributions from the established musicians are predictably excellent, but it’s even more gratifying to hear emerging talents like Isabella Coulstock, Amber Prothero and Slicko DiCaprio taking the opportunity to shine.

“Out of Darkness” is out on Friday June 6th on Wulfrun Records (WULFRUN 1).

And just to give you a flavour of the album, here’s the lockdown video for “You Got Me From Hello”:

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.