Vassar's 'Prayer' answered in song

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

(Published April 13, 2008


"Prayer of a Common Man," Phil Vassar (Universal Records South)

Phil Vassar's selfish streak is starting to show, and it suits him well. On his latest album, "Prayer of a Common Man," it sounds as though he's finally kept the best stuff for himself after years of giving too many of his endless hits away to artists such as Tim McGraw and JoDee Messina.

Vassar, country's piano man and an award-winning songwriter, has made his name penning songs that stand out from the cliche fishin'-huntin'-drinkin' country fare. His tunes are more about America's everyman. And the title track is the very best case of that. It's his own story of the moments that define us.

"He was just a cog in their wheel, lived and died by the layaway plan/Lord hear the prayer of a common man/Hallelujah, is anybody up there?" You can hear the distinctive desperation in his voice, but this time he's thrown a falsetto into the chorus that ups his vocal reputation a notch.

While most of the 12 tracks have easy, uncomplicated arrangements, there are a few cool surprises. There's a lightning fast accordion on "Why Don't Ya," Vassar's collaboration with Los Lonely Boys. And the Beach-Boys-esque harmonies that ease in and out of "It's Only Love" will turn heads.

Nostalgia is a common theme for Vassar, so his up-tempo "My Chevrolet" is sweet if a little banal. But his current single, "Love Is a Beautiful Thing," is the one headed to the top of the charts. This banjo-backed rocking ballad about the mundane moments that add to the joys of a wedding, is one of only two tracks Vassar didn't write. Behind it is the potent duo of Craig Wiseman and Jeffrey Steele, who would be hard pressed to write a bad song.

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