Back On The Streets

Donnie Iris

Carousel / MCA Records, 1980

http://www.donnieiris.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/29/1997

It's not often I write a review "flying blind." I usually have a basic knowledge of the artist, either from just listening to them for years, reading the liner notes or finding information on other areas of the Internet.

But Donnie Iris is a different story. Had it not been for my friend Diane and her husband giving me a whole mess of albums, I never would have heard of Iris. And once I decided to review his 1980 effort Back On The Streets (which I had a bitch of a time finding at my local used record store), I hit two more brick walls. The cassette has no liner notes, and there is damned little about him in any of the books I consult on a daily basis. The Web? No help to me in this instance.

So, we're left with what really is a "forgotten" artist and a forgotten classic. Were it not for the minor hit "Ah! Leah!" off this one, Iris would have slipped through the cracks of rock history. But a few listens to Back On The Streets shows that Iris is an artist who might be due a rediscovery.

"Ah! Leah!" is the leadoff track on this album, and what a song to be remembered for... well, remembered in a sense. The guitar work and keyboards complement each other so well, and the vocal harmonies are captivating. This is a song I honestly can't get enough of, and has rightfully made it onto several "500 best" lists from classic rock stations. (There is a promo-only live album from around this time which has "Ah! Leah!" on it - I haven't had a chance to dust off the copy Diane and John gave me.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But Iris quickly shows his talents went beyond one song. At times, his work reminds me a bit of Huey Lewis & The News for the doo-wop sounds and vocal harmonies, though Iris was more interested in making music for 1980 and not revisiting old ghosts. "You're Only Dreaming" and the title track are two prime examples of how good of a songwriter and musician he was for that time period.

In fact, maybe it was the doo-wop that hurt Iris in 1980. While America was embracing groups like Pink Floyd and artists like Bob Seger, others like Iris, who were trying to merge yesterday's rich history with the electronics of that day were forgotten. (One wonders what would have happened if this album had been released just one year later, with MTV coming on the scene.)

The second side of Back On The Streets is a tad weaker - one song, "Too Young To Love," almost sounds like a leftover from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". Others, like "She's So Wild," are killer tracks that keep your foot tapping, while still others lile "Daddy Don't Live Here Anymore" fail to ignite. Still, the misfires are few and far between.

In fact, the biggest weakness I heard on this one was in the drum tracks - they often do not sound like acoustic drums. I could be absolutely wrong on this, but I'd venture to guess the majority of the drum work was synthesized, a complaint I have had with certain Huey Lewis songs. The album has aged a bit - you can tell from the keyboard work that this wasn't stuff banged out last week - but still remains somewhat fresh... kind of like the jar of stewed tomatoes that lingers in almost everyone's food cabinets.

So why bother to talk about this album if almost no one has heard of it? Simple: warts and all, it's a decent enough effort with a few excellent tracks. It shows the talent of Iris quite well - and it makes me mad that books like The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock & Roll don't even reserve one fucking sentence for him. Something is messed up here, kids. There is a reason some people still remember "Ah! Leah!" One listen to that song - and the rest of Back On The Streets - and you'll understand why.

It's only a matter of time before Iris and his body of work is re-discovered and recognized for what it is. My thought is that it's been neglected for far too long. You don't believe me? Call your local classic rock station and request "Ah! Leah!" and tell them that I asked you to. Discover in three minutes what I did courtesy of a gift. Nicest thing anyone's ever done for me.

Rating: B-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Carousel / MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.