Hands down, one of the hardest workers on the independent scene is Alex Varughese. The Cold Lake, Alberta native is a veteran of the rock and metal brigades with Sugakane, Vela and Kingdoom, blues gurus Jimmy & The Sleepers, and has recorded and toured with Econoline Crush, The Steadies, and Big Sugar, among others.
With rotation on MuchMusic, awards at home and in Memphis, he's crafted his trade working in Canada and in LA, and he's gifted enough that he can do things his way. His latest foray is actually the eighth album he's recorded - his rastafarian alter-ego Lex Justice. And 2017's CRAZY WORLD isn't out of the norm for him, but merely an extension of the complex personality of someone with a wide array of influences.
Calling it one of the best records of the genre in recent memory is actually an injustice (pun intended), or at least an understatement. Yes, it's reggae - but that's just the main course, with a dash of rock, a sprinkling of jazz and R&B, and some blues on the side.
The title track leads it off and sets the table for a 40+ minute delicasy with slick grooves in "Fly On The Wall," "Emergency," and the keys-driven "Kingston To Bombay."
The theme of "Love Heart & Soul, the sweet sax-laden "Where Is Your Love," and "Hate Is Love" might seem the same on the outside, but like any good treats they all have their own special appeals. The title track and "Drug Dealah" show off Alex Varughese the songwriter - well crafted socially conscious numbers without judgement but with a message.
The production is solid, with guitar licks that cut like a knife, but smooth enough to spread nicely. CRAZY WORLD is palatable not just to the most staunchest of reggae fans - but also digestible by the casual fan, simply looking for a well produced fresh spin on the classic vibe. Whichever customer you are, there's something on the menu for you.
Revived project has Varughese singing the blues - April, 2019
He's played with them off and on for 13 years, and their last go-around was six years ago, and on the back of their EP, C'est La Vie, they were up for just about every Alberta music award there is. They also made waves in Memphis, a mecca for blues aficionados during the world-renowned International Blues Competition in 2012, with artists from all over the world competing. No other group from Alberta had ever been invited, and no Canadian group or artist won the fans over more or placed higher than they did when they appeared.
Hot off the presses is the band's new album, All That Money, which has actually been in the can since members all took a break three years ago to finish off outside projects. Reviews have been stellar, and they're already being mentioned in the same sentence as Juno. The title track, "Devil In Me," "Crying On My Shoes," and "Jelly Bean" are just samplings for your listening delight - the songs as individual servings in an eight-course meal.
They all have their own unique tastes and textures. And together they make the perfect recipe for anyone looking to tease their taste buds with some rock solid Chicago-style blues and get in on one of the hottest indie acts in the country.
Although that's the fork in the road the album took, it's also a natural journey, given who he's working with. "Jimmy, and the rest of the band for that matter, are some of the best musicians you can find for traditional blues - staples in the Edmonton blues scene. But I'd like to think we tapped into just about every element of the blues for this record," he noted.
Varughese cut his teeth on the music scene with Sugakane, Vela, and then Kingdoom, beginning two decades ago. All three rock entities either enjoyed attention from MuchMusic , toured the country with the likes of Big Sugar and Wide Mouth Mason, or picked up awards from the Emonton and Alberta music associations – or any combination thereof.
He's toured and wrote with Econoline Crush, and under the Lex Justice banner and now with Jimmy & The Sleepers again, it makes him one of the most diverse and hardest working artists in Canada. He said if any comparison can be made between himself and a musical chameleon, it's because of his influences.
"My Mom and Dad's music collection was kind of the foundation for me liking any type of music, period. Thanks to my parents, I had a lot of different music to listen to, growing up - very eclectic. It's probably why I got into music to begin with," Varughese said. "Then the movie The Blues Brothers, that music and the movie made me think I could do this."
Select dates in western Canada were announced throughout the spring and summer of 2019 for Jimmy & The Sleepers. Meanwhile Varughese also made good on commitments during his 20th anniversary tour, which will included a mix of a bit of everything he'd done over the years, as well as bar standards that shaped his early live career.