Formula serves singer/songwriter Dave Vargo extraordinarily well on his first solo album Burning Through. Based out of the New Jersey area, he definitely cuts the album’s eleven songs in a meat and potatoes mold that eschews musical fireworks in favor of melodic virtues and emotional truth. It is the saving grace elevating Vargo’s performance over pre packaged fluff. There’s more though. He projects vast oceans of feeling with some vocals and his phrasing takes a distinctive approach that puts a figurative face to his finest moments. The production places his voice and the album’s instrumentation in equal prominence with one another and the result is an impressively unified sound that never sounds wayward or uninspired. Dave Vargo’s songs on Burning Through sound like the kind of material that’s waited a lifetime to emerge in this way and some of the songwriting on this release seems to reinforce that view.
A lot of that fire and chest-thumping energy comes across early. The first song “Come Take Me Home” makes its pleas for the audience’s attention without any pretense or wasted motion and should suck in anyone who hears it. It’s impressive to hear how well Vargo, as a composer, can bring together various elements of light and shade into a credible rock track while surrendering none of his substance as a lyricist. “Good Enough” is an effort of equal value. It move at a little more a slow burn than the opener and shares, arguably, more in common with the album’s later gestures towards rock music without indulging any of the guitar workouts. “Wishing on a Star” is an affecting personal-sounding piece about how our desires and dreams inspire us early and sustain us for years to come. “Finding My Way to You” is, easily, the most outwardly stirring moment on Burning Through and grabs the audience’s attention from the start. It’s never strident or too strong, however, and accomplishes much of its positive effects through another of Vargo’s uncomplicated and often heart clutching melodies. His lead guitar work shines quite brightly on this song.
“Right Now” will bring you more and more into its world with repeated listens. Burning Through is an album that makes a big deal about connecting with the listener, but closer inspection will reveal countless subtleties in these songs. This particular cut does a memorable job of balancing sensitivity with embodying some of the urgency suggested by its title while contrasting it with a comparatively restrained Vargo singing performance. “Twisted and Bent” is, easily, the album’s most naked musical performance, but he is more than up to the task and its storytelling values help the song stand out even more. “Don’t Think Twice” finds him branching out a little musically without ever going too far afield of the album’s mandate and the variations are welcome. Burning Through concludes with the fine “Pieces of My Heart” and its interesting rhythms and tempo changes aid Vargo in getting the lyric over with his audience. Formula is very recognizable here, but Vargo is never content with just reworking some common poses and pandering for our attention.
8 out of 10 stars