Iris Shows Softer Side On New CD
By Scott Tady

Donnie Iris begins and ends his new album by singing "Amazing Grace."

The beloved Beaver Valley rock star treats that hallowed song with respect.   Almost with too much respect.   At some point, longtime fans might wish he'd unleash one of his patented screams surrounded by grinding guitars.

Alas, that's not the nature of "Together Alone," a fine, but uncharacteristic, compact disc from the Patterson Township resident.

Fans hoping to hear rousing Iris rock tunes like "Love is Like a Rock" or "I Can't Hear You" would be best served by looking elsewhere.

Iris' new CD is a more mellow affair that places a premium on tender, emotion-wrenched songs.

The CD's producer and chief songwriter Mark Avsec tries a daring strategy by stripping down the electric guitar, bass and drums to allow the spotlight to shine on Iris' powerful vocals.

You could almost imagine Iris seated at a piano in a smoke-filled lounge, belting out some of these tunes.

Listeners clearly will notice the desperation oozing out of Iris' voice as he begs a would-be lover to spend the night in "Lay With Me."

The CD's standout song is the title track, which features a stunning duet between Iris and Brownie Mary singer Kelsey Barber.

Recognizing love that can't be is much more interesting than love that is, Avsec has Iris and Barber wistfully crooning their characters' feelings for each other.

Sample lyric:
"Because of our ties
We can't show each other how we feel
So, we'll each go home
We'll each pour a glass of wine
And we'll face the night
Together alone."

Joe Grushecky shows up on the "The Promise", exchanging blue-collar, fight-the-good-fight wisdom with Iris.

The Clarks' Scott Blasey, Aliquippa native B.E. Taylor and Michael Stanley - the Cleveland version of Iris - take vocal turns on "Amazing Grace," which features imaginitive techno-meets-jungle drumming from Rusted Root's Jim DeSpirito.

Religion and sleep are the two recurring themes in the six new songs written by Avsec, a longtime corraborater with Iris.

The two men include on the CD an acoustic version of their enduring hit, "Ah! Leah!" To their credit, this isn't just a typical "unplugged" version of a popular song.   Iris, Avsec and their durable guitarist Marty Lee Hoenes, tinker with the tempo and phrasing to produce a fresh rendering that convincingly portrays the emotional longing in that now-familiar tune about a couple "headed for disaster" because their "minds said no, but (their) hears were talking faster."

Avsec hails from Cleveland, which explains why he has Iris singing about "sailing down the Cuyahoga River" on the song "Fade Away." (Yo Mark! Donnie's a Beaver Valley boy.   Couldn't you at least have had him sailing down the Ohio?)

"Fade Away" would be a basic song about vanished love, if not for a metaphor involving a crucifix.   The song "Holy Love" features references to baptism, resurrection, a priest, a demon, singing angels, an alter and church bells.

The CD's "hidden track" features church bells and religious chanting.

You almost expect WDVE-FM (102.5) morning co-host Jim Krenn - in his finest Pittsburghese voice - asking, "Hey Donnie! Yinz guys gettin' all religious on us, N 'at?"

It will be interesting seeing that kind of reaction this subdued Iris album gets from local rock stations.

Obviously, the days of Iris appearing on the Top-40 charts are long gone.   So, it's admirable that the Patterson Township resident has tried a dramatic change in style, rather than trying to rehash his old sound.

You won't want to plop "Together Alone" into your car's CD player if you're trying to overpower someone at a traffic light.

But for some late night, sip-a-glass-of-wine-and-ponder-your-life music, you can rely on "Together Alone."