Phil Vassar

Prayer of a Common Man

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It's hard to call Phil Vassar's Prayer of a Common Man a concept album, as it contains no narrative, but it sure is conceptual, built upon the trials and travails of the common man in 2008, which naturally means there are plenty of passing references to Republicans and Democrats and the high price of gas. Vassar pumps Prayer full of everyman melodrama and easy nostalgia, supporting his conversational clich├ęs with music that is country in marketing only, as he chooses to support his tales of the common man with songs that deliberately evoke John Mellencamp and Bob Seger -- quite literally so with the latter, as Vassar builds in allusions to "Night Moves" and "Roll Me Away" on "My Chevrolet," which plays as if penned for a yearlong television ad campaign. He may aspire to Mellencamp and Seger, but his reliance on grandiose piano runs makes large sections of Prayer of a Common Man feel like the work of a Midwestern Billy Joel, especially as the first half of the album is heavy on overheated songs, designed to fill arenas but almost feeling better suited for a theatrical production. Things get a little looser as the album rolls on, as Vassar eases into a great little zydeco rocker called "Why Don't Ya" and indulges in some surprisingly effective psychedelia lite on the chorus of "It's Only Love," which recalls the better moments of Big Kenny. These tunes prove that Vassar is at his best when he doesn't try quite so hard, but the problem with Prayer of a Common Man is that for the bulk of its running time he's trying entirely too hard, either to say something important or to relate to the common man, a paradox that ultimately sinks the record.

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