Album Reviews

John Parr’s Mission comes from the heart

By Chris Shapiro:

John Parr a master of music

John Parr’s latest album, The Mission, is scheduled for release on July 4th.

2012 is becoming the year of “rebirth” for Rock ‘n Roll.  We have new material from Springsteen, Aerosmith, Rush and Van Halen (with Diamond Dave leading the Different Kind of Truth train).  Now, just when I thought this  “rebirth” couldn’t be topped, I hear John Parr’s new album The Mission.

This album has the fun, guitar fueled sound that today’s generation of Rock ‘n Roll needs to hear.  I can picture Parr playing his signature American Flag guitar as I hear his riffs blasting through the speakers.

Parr’s voice is as solid as the day he sung “Naughty, Naughty.”  There’s no distortion or alteration.  It sounds like genuine Parr.  When you hear him sing the first lyric of “Big Bad Silverado,” you know it’s the man who took “St. Elmo’s Fire” to number one.

It’s raw, energetic music and the guitar work is perfect.  There’s no sign of computer alterations or added sound effects.  Parr knows the key to creating great rock music.  It’s simple, kick-ass guitar, a power-house voice and songs that tell a story.

The tracks are not pop songs with a chorus or catchy phrase that gets repeated for four minutes.  Parr has created each song to tell a story and each story relates to the overall theme of the album, which is life centered around military service.

Parr has combined his passion of music and appreciation of men and women in the military and created, what I believe, is one of the best rock albums of this year.  Parr has stated that a large percentage of the profits from The Mission will be donated to Military related organizations such as the U.S.O. and U.S. CARES.

John Parr isn’t kidding when he says The Mission is Rock ’n Roll at its heart and one of the best he’s ever made.  Listen to the first five seconds of the riff off “Enlisted Man” and you’ll agree.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Chevy man, but I just love “Big Bad Silverado.” I love the pauses in the song where you hear the hand claps.  It’s contagious and I found myself keeping beat (even as I type this review I’m trying to keep beat with my fingers on the keyboard.)

If you hit the mute button and just read the lyrics, something happens that doesn’t happen with other musicians, Parr’s heart is opened.  Under the rock surface, Parr’s lyrics are written from the heart.  Everything associated with The Mission shows that Parr is passionate about giving back to those who have served.  He’s not singing about a new trend or style, he’s singing about what matters to him deep inside his soul.  Parr is a musician playing his instrument and singing from his heart.  You can’t top that.

I strongly suggest that there are two types of people who need to purchase this album.  First, those who call themselves fans of Rock ‘n Roll.  This is a rock album and it needs to be a part of every collection.  Second, anyone who is serving or has served in the military.  Music is all about the artist making the connection with their listeners.  No one will appreciate or connect with his album more than those who have served.

The Mission is available for download on July 4th and hard copies will be available at the end of the month.

This would be the perfect way to show your appreciation to a service member who has just enlisted in the military.  Parr’s songs will serve as a reminder as to why and what they are fighting for.  The Mission has the heart and soul that will keep any solider fighting day or night, rain or shine for the greatest nation on Earth.

This album deserves a 5/5 rating.  No Questions asked.

Donnie Iris keeps his cool while live

By Chris Shapiro

On his first live album, Donnie Iris gives a performance that equals Bob Seger’s Live Bullet.  His performance not only earns him the right to call himself King Cool but the King of Pittsburgh.

A live album can be a tricky feat for an artist.  Often times, the live versions do not measure up to the studio versions.  Seldom do the live performances out weight the studio versions as did Bob Seger’s Live Bullet released in 1976.  The live versions of “Turn the Page” and “Travelin’ Man” became staples of live music during the 70s.

Throughout his musical career, Donnie Iris has released two live albums. The first was 1998’s Live! At Nick’s Fat City.

Live! At Nick’s Fat City starts off with the Iris and Mark Avsec penned Agnes.  It kicks off with a throbbing drum intro before the rest of the band shifts the song into gear.  A minute of pure rock instrumentals preludes Iris’s vocals.  Once Iris takes charge of the song, the story of Agnes comes to life, in all her “madness.”  This version is a fully charged, engines to the max, rock song with the band providing an unyielding instrumental foundation and Iris delivering a powerhouse of vocals.

Nothing on the album compares to the rawness of “Minnie the Moocher.” The growl of the guitar riffs coupled with Iris’s signature rock cry during the chorus and the pulsating bass throughout makes the song the coolest on the King’s album.  The talk-box during the guitar solo is performed with such expertise that it would make Peter Frampton jealous.

“Ah! Leah!” the song that defined Iris’s solo career, starts off with a dark, sinister, yet almost pray like introduction.  The song starts off like a distant wave in the open waters of the ocean.  Avsec’s keyboards provide a gentle calm while a chant like repeat of “Ah! Leah!” causes a disturbance in the water.  The bass and drums built suspense as the wave reaches the shore line.  Suddenly, with the guitar faded-in and the hammering of the drums, the crest of the wave breaks and “Ah! Leah!” blasts onto shore.

With perfect vocals from both Iris and his band’s backing, it is easy to see how this gem rocketed to success.  Fans will love the extended amount of time the song is played.  The studio version runs just under four minutes, while the live version clocks in a seven minutes and six seconds.

The song comes to a close after Iris completes a call and response from the audience.  If Leah was in the crowd, she surely heard the call.

“Poletown” starts off with a slow groovy beat driven by the rock-solid drum performance.  The song tells a story with Iris talking lines at times and giving his signature rock cry during the chorus.  “Poletown” acts as a slowing force between the upbeat songs of “This Time It Must Be Love” and “That’s The Way Love Ought To Be.”  It’s a slow groove that triggers reflection and memories of what use to be.

“Injured in the Game of Love” is the longest track on the album clocking in at over eight minutes.  It’s the whole package.  The song embodies everything that makes Donnie Iris and the Cruisers great.  Every instrument shines through with just the right intensity.  Iris’s vocals soar to a higher range as the second repeat of the chorus kicks-in.

Halfway through the performance the song slows and Iris comes in talking about the “Game of love.”  Iris speaks as one with experience and every listener who’s taken a chance in the game is able to relate.  With organs playing in the background, the listener is reminded of the stakes of getting involved in the high risk game of love.  It is a must listen to for Donnie Iris fans.

“Tenth Street” is a song that showcases Avsec’s skills on the keyboard.  Avsec and spotless backing vocals by the band members drive the song.  “Tough World” is another song that exemplifies the musical skills of the Cruisers.

“Do You Compute?” was a solidly performed song yet it didn’t quite measure up to the studio version.  At times it’s difficult to understand Iris over the crowd as the vocals seem to get drowned out.  It also lacks the echo effect of the vocals that the studio version features.  Yet, still it’s an amazing song.

The album closes with a classic from the Iris vault, “The Rapper,” a song Iris perform early in his career with the Jaggerz.  Avsec’s keyboards add an updated electrified charge to the 70s hit.

Personally, my favorites included “Poletown” and “Injured in the Game of Love.”  They provided a connection that resonated inside.  Certain songs just have that effect and those do.

Overall, I recommend this album to every fan of Donnie Iris and every resident of Pittsburgh.  If you call yourself a Pittsburgher and this album isn’t part of your collection, then get out of Pittsburgh, because this is the King’s land.  I give a rating of 4 out of 5 stars to Live! At Nick’s Fat City.

The Sound of Rock Kihn Roll

By Chris Shapiro

It’s been ten years in the making but Greg Kihn Band the Best of Beserkley has finally arrived.  The compilation contains 21 tracks ranging from the original 1975 Chartbusters album up to 1984’s Kihntagious.

The album is a goldmine of music that embodies the true nature and sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  There are no flashy, digital, over-the-top sound effects or vocal alterations.  Each instrument has its place in each song which provides an enjoyable friendly sound.  Kihn’s lyrics are catchy and timeless, often times autobiographical as Kihn writes in the liner notes, while the guitar solos flow through the songs like silk.

Listening to the album from start to finish will carry the listener through a decade’s worth of music.  It’s like a personal time transport.  Listening to songs like “All the Right Reasons,” from the Chartbusters album, and “Any Other Woman,” from the first Greg Kihn Band album, takes the listener back to the mid-70s.  It’s hard to describe, but those early songs just have the feel of that generation.  The themes and sounds come through in those ones.  Then, by the songs “Happy Man” and “Someday,” the 80s synthesizer makes its mark and carries the listener through the memories of the 1980s.

Of course the album contains the Greg Kihn Band’s hit “The Breakup Song” and 1983’s monster hit, “Jeopardy.” Yet, they are only the surface layer to this goldmine.  The true treasure lies with the songs, “Someday,” “Love Never Fails,” and “Every Love Song.”

“Every Love Song” starts with a groovy, contagious (or should I say Kihntagious) bass that immediately hooks you.  You’ll start to unconsciously move your feet and snap your fingers to the beat.  Then, by the time the band is singing the chorus for the second time, you’ll be joining in.  Two-thirds through, a killer sax kicks in and carries the song to the end.  It’s the kind of song you walk down the street to with your collar flipped up.

Following the groovy beat of “Every Love Song” is the “Love Never Fails.”  This song has a more powerful sound than “Every Love Song” and comes across with a rock solid beat.  Instead of a sax, a wailing guitar gives an edgy vibe to it.  It’s one you’ll find yourself playing over and over again.

With an upbeat, true 80’s feel, “Someday” will be an instant favorite for listeners.  The guitar solos are smooth and fit perfectly.  It’s classic.

The reflective “Remember” is the longest track on the album.  It’s an emotion evoking song that exemplifies the guitar work of Kihn and Dave Carpender.

Then there’s the darker “Can’t Stop Hurting Myself.” It’s a song everyone can relate to at least once in their life and when your at that point, no song hits home like this one.  You can feel the song’s soul come alive through Kihn’s voice.  His vocal approach to whispering the lyrics at times gives the song an element of emotion unlike his others.
Hands down the best sounding guitar work and rock sound goes to, “Reunited.” Here, the band took a harder rock approach to their sound.

Yet, overall, the stand-out song on the album is “The Breakup Song.” It’s what defines the Greg Kihn Band.  From the first note, you know the song’s a hit.  It has it all.  There’s the universal message, the rockabilly factor, the hook and the talent behind it.  The rock songs of this generation can’t measure up to “The Breakup Song.”  They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Music isn’t the only item on this album.  Kihn went through and provided detailed liner notes for each song that gives the album a personal feel for fans.  Kihn discusses concepts and interesting facts behind the songs and albums.  He also retells how the Greg Kihn Band formed and the early days of being a Beserkley Artist.  Also, the cover jackets from every Greg Kihn Band album is featured on the cover while photos dating back to the early days of the band are packed in-between the liner notes.

Greg Kihn Band the Best of Beserkley is a must have, not just for fans of the Greg Kihn Band, but for anyone who calls themselves a fan of classic rock.  Kihn went above and beyond creating this album for his fans.  You can see it the song selection, the descriptions, the packaging and the amount of time he spent creating it.  Kihn’s heart and soul is in this collection.  I give it the highest recommendation and a 5 out of 5 stars.  Owning this collection will make you a “Happy Man” or woman.

The album is available in stores and on iTunes.

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