When looking for who might be the next big voice in the Americana music scene, you’d likely look to an up and comer from Nashville, honing their sound while crafting hardscrabble lyrics on bar napkins, right? But what if we told you that one of the most promising rising artists in the scene was a financial planner from Farmingdale, New Jersey? No doubt you’d laugh us out of the room but after you heard the story and the music of Dave Vargo, we’d be the ones with the last laugh.
For as it is with most tales, Dave Vargo’s story is far more nuanced than it seems. From learning guitar at an early age to graduating Berklee College of Music with a degree focused on jazz and jazz fusion performance that opened doors to working and touring with artists like Phoebe Snow, Vonda Shepherd, and Whitney Houston. Burnout would come calling eventually and Vargo bailed on music, save for some local side gigs, for the financial planning circuit until a freak water heater accident destroyed all of his guitars right around the same time he began noticing an advance in arthritis in his hands and he knew that if he was going to return to music, the time was now.
This time out Vargo drew his influences not from the jazz of the past but rather from the rising genre of Americana honed by artists like Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, and Steve Earle, inspired by the depth of lyricism absent from much of the radio friendly pop-country he was hearing. Soon after Vargo took to writing and his Americana debut was born and released later as Burning Through. Now, with a sophomore release on the way, the artist has dropped the Battle Burns EP, a two-song experience that showcases Vargo’s stirring musicianship alongside his earnest and honest songwriting.
“This Time Around” leads off the set with warm acoustic guitars and a mid-tempo shuffle that sets the tone for Vargo’s rich voice, a voice with just a touch of sandpaper that truthfully sells the pained lyrics that find Vargo musing over the life that has brought one to seek solace in the bottom of a glass at the local bar. Vargo accents his voice with solidly delivered hits of electric guitar, his playing skillfully restrained and providing the perfect counterpoints to the acoustic tones.
Following hard after is the title track, “Battle Burns,” which finds Vargo delivering more of the same mid-tempo warmth and smooth vocals alongside insightful lyrics that explore the ups and downs of life’s struggles with clever wordplay. The electric guitar features more heavily here, driven by a consistent beat that paves the way for more of Vargo’s stirring musicianship, his notes each ringing forth with carefully considered care.
While two songs may seem to be too little to herald Dave Vargo as the next big thing in Americana music, they do certainty wet the whistle and leave listeners hoping to hear more from the humble financial planner from New Jersey. And if he’s bringing more of this great musicianship and songwriting along, we might be having that conversation after all.
Andrew Greenhalgh posed by Anne Hollister