SCENE - August 14-20, 1980

Donnie Iris
Midwest National

Donnie Iris used to be vocalist for the band called The Jaggerz [as in ďThe Rapper," their only regional hit], but heís gone solo with his first album on Belkin-Maduriís Midwest National label. Iris, who looks like an Elvis Costello-Buddy Holly clone on the cover, has himself an album that would make either of those two musical giants proud. Itís a combination between his style of rough lead singing and producer Mark Avsec's hot production.

Avsec is currerntly playing keyboards in Clevelandís Breathless. There, his role of sideman doesn't allow him any space for writing (as Jonah Koslen writes the bandís material), so this past spring, Avsec (who also wrote LaFlavour's hit "Rondolee") traveled between Breathless rehearsals in Cleveland and Jeree Studios near Pittsburgh, Pa. to record this album. Avsec collected the musicians (all Cleveland-Pittsburgh talent) and helped Iris work up material.

Avsec and Iris [nee Ierace) wrote all of the material, either together or with other members of the studio band.

Guitarist Marty Lee (of The Pulse) p|ays some wild guitar parts with great ease; he's a pro already. Bassist Al McClain (presently of David Werner's band) displays his exceptional ability throughout the album. His style goes beyond the traditional rock bass lines most players use. Breathless drummer Kevin Valentine provides the beat. Avsec himself handles the keyboards and Iris does all of his own background vocals.

This small and temporary alliance of Ohio and Pennsylvania musicians manage to do an amazing amount of "wailing." The songs comprise one clear direction with an almost perfect memory for a Cleveland (harmonies and keyboards) sound and a Pittsburgh (barroom vocals, guitars and R&B) sound. Therefore, the hybrid direction verges, at times, on brilliance and other times confusion.

At any rate, rock imagery -- abounds in a sincere and honest packaging with songs like "Sheís So Wild" and the title cut. If the Iron City Houserockers could write songs like these, they'd be more popular than J. Geils Band today. "Agnes" would be a perfect tune for The Houserockers to do and Iris' Pittsburgh-oriented vocals prove that those chumps from New Jersey don't have all of the street-wise chops locked up. In other songs, multi-track harmonies and a more pop sound dominate. Songs like "Ah! Leah!" show a Cleveland approach to rock harmonies, lots of keyboards and a more pop sound prevail.

Mark Avsec and Donnie Iris make a good team as producer and artists. Together, they compliment each otherís styles nicely. As writers they have managed to mesh a couple of distinctive sounds from their respective home bases. It works well.

BACK ON THE STREETS is a great rock and roll album. It should get Donnie Iris back on the streets, into the clubs and onto a stage; where he can further develop the style heís captured on record.

Jim Girard