Phil Varca and the SlamJammers – Cash and Don’t Push Me


Phil Varca’s vocal and guitar playing talents have carried his three piece live and recording act Phil Varca and the SlamJammers for nearly thirty years and established him and his collaborators as one of the foremost interpreters of modern electric blues. The newest singles from Varca and his band are “Cash” and “Don’t Push Me”, guitar heavy yet soulful invocations of the band at its best and bristling with musical life. One might assume that such veteran musicians might grow content and complacent after carving out a sustainable career as a nationally recognized act who have supported and played the same stages with musical giants like Shemika Copeland, Buddy Guy, Robin Trower, Popa Chubby, and Joe Bonamassa, but the two new singles showcase a singer and band still hungry for recognition rather than an outfit content to ride on their reputation.

“Don’t Push Me” sounds dredged up from some bitter personal experiences and Varca gets the story over to listeners with just the right amount of drama and tailoring to the music. His gravel and nicotine wrecked singing voice might not sound like an audience friendly instrument, but Varca ingratiates himself with listener soon in and his voice never affects listener’s enjoyment of the song. The guitar sound has a straight forward bluesy touch rather than mixing in elements of funk and soul and Varca’s voice locks around the six string work in an effective way. It’s part of an overall package that has strong intimacy and gets up in listener’s faces from the first. Varca’s a soloist who never tries to dominate the spotlight and, instead, makes sense with everything he does. He never overplays his musical hand, much to his credit, and there’s melodicism, no matter how ruggedly it’s turned, in his guitar work that complements his blues based strengths.

“Cash” dispenses with any real nuance and instead favors funkafied rock power blasting away at a breathless pace. Varca is quite to matching it and shows great skill with the lyric despite the fast pace – we lose nothing from them amping up the energy level and it’s a testament to their skill level that nothing ever spins out of control. His vibrato as a guitar player, a signature element of any player’s style as indelible as a master painter’s brushstroke, will leap out time and again at listeners over the course of these two songs and makes much of its mark on the track “Cash”. Both of the songs never take too much advantage of listener’s attention and show how Phil Varca and the SlamJammers have continued to produce high quality work nearly three decades into their career and show why they’ve garnered the reputation they have as one of the pre-eminent musical acts working in the genre today. “Don’t Push Me” and “Cash” will captivate new fans and remind old fans of their unique talents and power.


Michael Saulman